Video experiment opens voting to membership

Demands on TV industryites have provoked changes in the process

The Prime Time Emmy Awards have been in existence for 52 years. When they began, TV was in its infancy. The number of creative artists and management professionals who were eligible for membership in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was small. Today the industry landscape has changed.

The Academy membership requirements, which include extensive production experience, artistic accomplishment and/or high-ranking executive status, have been met by a significant number of individuals across our nation. Many of these individuals are qualified and eager to fulfill the responsibility of selecting Emmy recipients in their areas of proven expertise.

That is why, after painstaking analysis, feedback from thousands of ATAS members and the tireless efforts of a committee headed by executive committee member Mark Itkin, we are making a change in the way the Prime Time Emmys are selected. On a one-year trial basis, all of the categories awarded on the primetime telecast will be judged via at-home viewing.

For several years, there have been growing concerns regarding the best way to ensure the participation of the largest number of qualified voting members of the Academy. Traditionally, blue-ribbon panels of ATAS members with nonconflicting interests have been convened for one weekend in August, dedicating two sequestered days at a hotel to screen the nominated programs in each category.

However, in a world of increasing demands, with nationwide membership and already overworked people, many of whom are launching new season programs, a significant number of qualified voters were prevented from serving simply because they were not available on those dates in the designated location.

After a thorough examination of the issue, the committee recommended and the board of governors voted to ensure that the results of the final voting process reflect the choice of as large a base of eligible voters as possible. This goal can be achieved by applying the at-home judging template from the made-for-television-movie and miniseries categories.

The at-home judging process keeps in place all of the current eligibility requirements, conflict-of-interest policies and balloting procedures, but permits qualified members to view the work of their peers by videotape at home rather than at a hotel on a specific date and time.

The board of governors is an elected body of representatives who serve their constituency. The at-home judging experiment was approved by the board because it was sought by a membership frustrated in its efforts to participate fully in the judging process. The permanent adoption of these changes will be decided after a thorough analysis by the committee and consideration by the board at the conclusion of this year’s Prime Time Emmys.

Is there a risk inherent in this change? Perhaps, but without risk there are no rewards. The integrity of the Emmy will be preserved and enhanced by the careful attention that the industry’s most qualified professionals will give to the selection process. We look forward to celebrating these accomplishments Sept. 10.

— Meryl Marshall is chairman and CEO of ATAS.

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