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Emmys nominees: Telecast freshens up with new net, host

DeGeneres returns to host kudocast

Change may be good, but ratings are better.

That’s been the networks’ credo ever since Nielsen issued its first numbers. So after last year’s 14.2 rating/23 share – the highest-rated Emmys telecast in five years – why is Garry Shandling out and Ellen DeGeneres in as host of this year’s event?

“It was an easy decision,” says Don Mischer, who will serve as the kudocast’s executive producer for the seventh (nonconsecutive) year. “With 26 awards handed out in three hours, we have the most to accomplish out of all of the awards shows, and she races as quickly as anyone. It’s a terrific match.”

But DeGeneres wasn’t always viewed as the perfect host.

“We took flack for using a then unknown,” Mischer says of DeGeneres’ 1994 hosting gig (alongside “Home Improvement’s” Patricia Richardson) on ABC. “‘Ellen’ had only been on for a few episodes, and mainstream America hadn’t gotten used to her.”

But the numbers were solid for the telecast, clocking in with a 14.6 rating/23 share and 21.2 million viewers, a number bet-tered last year with 21.8 million viewers.

DeGeneres’ return is also a decision influenced by self-promotion. Her new comedy, “The Ellen Show,” is on the Eye web this fall, her first stab at network TV after a much publicized dispute with ABC three years ago over the unceremonious cancellation of her so-so rated sitcom. “Too gay” or not, DeGeneres became persona non grata at the Alphabet network and has since shed the spotlight.

Returning to primetime television via this route may benefit the broadcast in terms of ratings while adding some cover-story drama to a year in which the nominees are very similar to last year’s.

Almost too similar.

Deja view

With the drama categories dominated – again – by NBC’s “The West Wing” and HBO’s “The Sopranos,” and the comedy noms almost mirroring last year’s candidates (only Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” is a new entry), the pressure is on to make people tune in.

“There’s two ways to look at this,” says Mischer. “It’s familiar, but it’s also a terrific horse race. It’s hard to go back to the same faces and same shows year after year, but all of them are reeling in viewers, so that’s who America wants to see.”

And it’s Danette Herman’s job to get them onstage. As the Emmycast’s coordinating producer, Herman’s main duty is to se-cure the talent and pair everyone with the right bits.

And while she may share the popular opinion that Emmy night will look mighty repetitive, she is prepared to travel down many original avenues.

“A lot of people have complained that this is all very familiar,” Herman says. “But there is definitely a transition taking place. The made-fors and miniseries category is one of the strongest in years, and it gives us something to turn to. With Judy Davis (“Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” ABC), Judi Dench (“The Last of the Blonde Bombshells,” HBO) and Emma Thompson (“Wit,” HBO) among the nominees, there is definitely a newness and a quality auds are anticipating. That’s something we can tap into.”

Herman also subscribes to the idea that more programming means more opportunities which means tapping into cable pro-gramming for bits and parodies, with the Emmy auds “getting” the references.

Although the show rotates homes on broadcast TV – the Big Four networks have each played host the past four years – she doesn’t rule out cable as a source of inspiration when it comes to ideas. Though the show is broadcast on the Nets, cable is hardly ignored.

“The networks are keeping pace with the cable industry when it comes to original programming,” she says. “So there are many more sources of inspiration than there used to be.”

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