TV Acad gets real

ATAS redraws rules to handle surge in reality's popularity

Emmy just doesn’t know what to make of reality TV.

Still dominated by members from the world of scripted comedies and dramas, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hasn’t been anxious to reward the world of nonscripted fare.

But that’s starting to change.

For the second time in three years, the TV Academy has rewritten its rules to accommodate nonfiction’s huge surge in popularity. “I think they came a long way this past year,” says “Fear Factor” producer Matt Kunitz. “(‘The Real World’s’) Mary-Ellis Bunim was on the Emmy board that was in charge of looking at reality, and I worked with her this season to help craft the new categories and subcategories. I know she and the TV Academy board worked hard to make it happen.”

For example, this year for the first time, reality TV writers (yes, many reality shows do have writers) and directors will compete in their own categories — and win their own trophies. Previously, those writers and directors received Emmys alongside producers and hosts/narrators when their series won an overall outstanding program award.

They’ll now have a chance to compete against their peers for their own hardware — but won’t get one if their show wins on its own. Also, the Academy renamed its four nonfiction program kudos to better describe which shows go into which category:

  • Nonfiction series (traditional). Documentary-style series dealing with topics such as nature, history or biography. Examples include “Behind the Music,” “Inside the Actors’ Studio” and “E! True Hollywood Story.”

  • Nonfiction special (traditional). One-time docu-style entries such as “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy” and the various Sept. 11 tribute specials.

  • Nonfiction program (alternative/unscripted). Staged and elaborately stylized reality specials or series that don’t have a game element, such as “The Real World,” “The Osbournes,” “Cops,” “Trading Spaces” and “Blind Date.”

  • Reality/competition programs. Specials or series that involve competition and a prize of some sort at the end; primetime gameshows are included. Shows eligible include “Joe Millionaire,” “Fear Factor,” “The Bachelor,” “The Mole,” “Road Rules,” “ElimiDate” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

The four categories are a variation on the system set up in 2001. Previously, the nonscripted genre was lumped into a handful of catch-all categories and not given much thought by anyone — other than those few who were actually nominated.

“The previous years it was a mess,” Kunitz says. “Look at all of these shows that are so successful, particularly reality competition shows. Yet they were competing with ‘Nova.'”

The Acad was forced to rethink its formula after shows like “Survivor” burst on the scene, and it became apparent that reality TV wasn’t a fad.

“It almost can’t be ignored when shows like ‘American Idol,’ ‘Joe Millionaire,’ ‘Survivor’ and ‘Fear Factor’ are among the top 20 shows,” says Endemol USA prexy David Goldberg.

It’s not a perfect system. Although it’s much more obvious than before where a certain show should be nominated, reality offerings are so varied that it still seems odd to put “Fear Factor” in the same category as “The Bachelor.” And it’s jarring to see studio gamers like “Millionaire” paired with on-location series like “Road Rules.”

It also might be considered strange that “Bachelor” is eligible for the reality/competition category, when the prize isn’t monetary — winners on that show snag themselves a spouse.

Those concerns are one reason why the four best nonfiction show categories are still “area awards,” meaning more than one series or special — or none at all — may wind up winning.

That gives your average reality show a better shot at winning. But it also makes the categories less interesting, since the shows aren’t technically competing against each other.

Meanwhile, reality TV has a long way to go before the Emmycast considers the genre on par with comedy and drama — or even latenight talkshows and comedy/musical specials.

While those programs are all awarded in primetime, the reality categories are still relegated to the nontelevised Creative Arts Emmys, held a week before the main kudofest. There’s still enough resistance to highlighting the genre — both within the Academy and at some of the networks — that it’s not likely to change soon.

“I think it’s absurd — if you’re building a primetime award show to appeal to audiences, then it makes sense to have shows that people are watching,” Kunitz says.”The reality is this is a genre that’s here to stay.”

Reality isn’t the only primetime genre missing at the primetime fete — animated series like “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” are also handed out at the creative arts ceremony, which is otherwise dominated by tech categories. Still, some reality producers consider it a snub.

“Get over it,” LMNO Prods. topper Eric Schotz says to industryites still opposed to awarding reality. “If it’s on primetime, it’s on primetime. It seems relatively simple to me.”

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