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Underdogs revel in rules revisions

Change in voting process gives more opportunity for netlets, less-visible skeins

EMMY CALENDAR
June 5-9: Nominating ballots mailed
June 20: Deadline for returning nominating ballots to Ernst & Young
July 6: Nominations announced
July 17-21: DVDs mailed for at-home judging — creative arts categories
July 24-28: DVDs mailed for at-home judging — telecast categories
Aug. 8: Deadline to return creative arts judging ballots to Ernst &Young
Aug. 15: Deadline to return telecast judging ballots to Ernst & Young
Aug. 19: Creative Arts Awards, Engineering and Interactive Awards and Ball, Shrine Auditorium
Aug. 27: NBC telecast, Shrine Auditorium

If all goes as planned, this year’s crop of Emmy nominees should include a few surprises.

After years of seeing the same shows and thesps up for the same awards — and another crop of actors and series getting the annual shaft — the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences has done something about it.

For the first time, a blue ribbon panel has been added to the Emmy nomination process. The group, which meets in June at the TV Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters, will have the final say in which thesps earn Emmy nods, as well as which series get nominated for outstanding comedy and drama.

The hope? That skeins such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Veronica Mars” — critically acclaimed but generally ignored by TV Acad voters — have a better shot at making their way on the Emmy ballot. Same goes for the stars of those shows.

“This significantly increases the potential for the widest and most diverse selection of nominees possible,” says TV Academy chairman-CEO Dick Askin.

It’s also an opportunity to see if adding a screening element to the process will lead to a higher caliber of nominees.

In the past, picking the top five nominees in the top acting and series categories was a pretty straight-ahead process: The finalists were simply the top five vote-getters, as selected by eligible Academy members.

But that meant the nominations weren’t always indicative of what was actually best onscreen. The same nominees, out of force of habit, showed up nearly every year.

Also, according to TV Academy awards senior VP John Leverence, voting was so close that there has been a razor’s-edge difference between the thesps and shows that make it as one of the five nominees on the final Emmy ballot, and who doesn’t.

In other words, the critics and fans might love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but because the show aired on a netlet, not enough Academy voters had seen the show for it to get pushed over the top.

It’s too late for the long-retired “Buffy,” but by requiring a group of Academy members to actually sit down and watch the shows — or the actors and actresses — in contention for the ballot, those shows that perhaps always wind up as the sixth or seventh pick (narrowly missing a nomination), may suddenly have a fighting chance.

“Those top (vote-getters) should be given the courtesy of having their work screened,” Leverence says of the logic behind the change. “Like a photo finish in a horse race, when you have to see who came over the finish line, here there’s a high degree of potential nominees coming to the winning line at the same time.

“We figured that if you looked at the tapes, and saw their actual accomplishments, it would be more fair to determine the top five nominees.”

As a result, going forward the entire Academy body will still nominate their favorite shows and thesps — but will now draw up an expanded list of 10 top comedies and dramas, and 15 top picks for actors and actresses.

From there, blue-ribbon members will screen the 10 top series vote-getters as well as the 15 top actor and actress vote-getters.

Said panelists — about 500 in total — will be divided into groups of between 20 and 25 and screen some of the finalists, giving each series or thesp a grade. Those numbers will be averaged into percentages, and nominees with the five highest percentages will move on to the Emmy ballot.

If all works to plan, fresh names and worthy but lesser-known series might finally make it to the final voting stage. At that point, as has been the case for several years now, Academy voters will still decide the ultimate winners at home.

“The whole intent of this exercise is to address the question of the same-old, same-old, the repetition of 60% to 80% of nominees from one year to another,” Leverence says.

There’s plenty of precedence for the change. Nominees in the guest actor/actress and outstanding variety performance categories have already been handled this way.

Also, until a few years ago, blue ribbon panels were used to select the actual Emmy winners. But at-home voting was installed after Academy leaders determined that the older makeup of panel members skewed the results toward traditional shows and the same actors and actresses.

This time around, the Academy says it expects to attract a much more diverse and younger panel because the nominees are decided in June — before most TV shows go back into production, allowing members of every age a chance to join in.

Meanwhile, in another break from tradition, casting execs and directors will now get to vote on nominees and winners in all performer categories.

“That’s a major change,” Leverence says. “The Academy has been purists in its peer group specificity, in determining who votes for what.”

Leverence says the performers requested the change themselves, figuring that casting agents and helmers would add a more qualitative eye to which thesp truly deserves to be nominated.

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