Don’t just chuckle and chortle. Emmy wants you howling all night long.
On the heels of a twice-delayed somber telecast in fall 2001 and a somewhat-muted ceremony last year as the TV Academy sought a proper balance between laughter and levity, the Emmy Awards telecast is looking to bust some buttons next month with a show heavy on comedy.
The hosts of the past three kudocasts — Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres and Garry Shandling — are among a cavalcade of comedians who will emcee the 55th Primetime Emmys on Fox from the Shrine Auditorium.
All together, a dozen jokesters from the world of television are expected to take their turn at the podium, with a fresh face greeting viewers after each commercial break.
Don Mischer, exec producer of this year’s broadcast, says producers and Fox wanted to try something different. “Instead of one comedic view running through the show, there will be many. Comedy really helps these shows move along and makes for a fun evening.”
Look also for parodies and takeoffs of popular TV shows and characters, similar to the well-received bit with Peter Falk’s “Columbo” character and Jennifer Garner’s “Alias” character on ABC’s 50th anniversary special in May.
Mischer also sees the no-single-host idea as representative of what the Acad is looking to achieve as the result of the big-bucks eight-year TV contract it signed in November. Under the deal, each of the major nets gets two cracks at TV’s biggest night.
“We’re trying much harder to be equitable dividing presenters and artists evenly among the networks,” he says. “We want the sense of the television industry completely supporting a show that just happens to be on a different network each year.”
Another result of this new all-for-one philosophy is the inclusion of a reality award to be presented on the kudoscast.
Television Academy chairman Bryce Zabel, who plans to pursue his writing career when his Emmy stint ends in October, says it took some doing to bring the award to the telecast. He brought together toppers at each of the nets for a rare lunch chat that he hopes will become a regular occurrence.
“It takes a unanimous vote from the four nets and the Academy to add or take out a category and it wasn’t quite gelling,” says Zabel, “so we got together and said, ‘Let’s work this out.’
“People too often talk past each other, but things can get settled when everyone’s on the same page.”
Zabel adds there’s a chance another award could make it to the telecast.
Still, this year’s Emmycast is already handing out a whopping 29 trophies — more than Oscar’s 24 and Grammy’s 10.
“Keeping the show moving is a constant battle,” says Mischer, who points out that last year’s Emmys on NBC ran 15 minutes long — a far cry from his first exec producing role with the Emmys in 1993 when his show entered the final hour a full 15 minutes ahead of sked.
The kudocast’s length is made more flexible these days by the 16-18 clip packages that will be prepared in advance. Each will come in short, medium and long versions — with their length determined by what’s not on the script.
“Every year, the most important element is something that is not produced,” Mischer says. “When winners get up out of the audience and up to the stage, that’s the heart of the show. That’s what you make room for.”
Fox’s Mike Darnell, exec VP of alternative and special programming, says the net is planning an hourlong pre-show.
He’s especially happy that the reality show award will be televised since Fox’s “American Idol” was the year’s hottest show and the presumed favorite. “It’s the biggest trend on TV the last three years, and it’s time that it was thought of the same as dramas and comedies,” Darnell says.
Louis J. Horvitz will direct this year’s Emmycast.