The plan to “time-shift” eight of the 28 award presentations during the live Primetime Emmycast is an effort to boost the kudocast’s ratings by making more time to highlight mainstream TV hits and other viewer-friendly elements.
Emmycast exec producer Don Mischer said in a conference call Thursday that the decision to pre-tape eight award presentations in the 45 minutes prior to the 5 p.m. PT start of the live Sept. 20 telecast came after the TV Academy research conducted after last year’s show found that viewers were tuning out “because the Emmys featured shows that viewers didn’t know and weren’t interest in,” Mischer said.
That translates to a tug of war between the cable hits and critical darlings that have dominated the noms for years — think “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “30 Rock,” “Dexter” and “Damages” — and the need to deliver strong ratings by highlighting broad-based hits like “American Idol,” “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“We’re trying to make the Emmys more relevant to mainstream viewers,” Mischer said.
The new plan means that Emmy ceremony attendees will need to be seated at L.A.’s Nokia Theater by 4:15 p.m. PT. That in turn means an earlier start for the parade of stars and celebs down the red carpet outside L.A.’s Nokia Theater. Typically, the traffic on the red carpet begins around 3 p.m., peaking with top stars and nominees between 4:30-5 p.m. Pre-show coverage mounted by E!, TV Guide Network and other outlets will also be affected.
The Acad has not finalized the list of awards that will be bumped to the taped format. Mischer said Emmy rules stipulate that the telecast has to maintain parity among the key branches, which means that the eight affected awards will be comprised to two awards apiece from the writing, directing, performing and producing categories.
Naturally, the decision is already drawing strong criticism from many quarters — and charges that CBS, the net carrying this year’s Emmycast, has a vested interest in what some see as an effort to de-emphasize smaller shows in favor of promoting top broadcast fare, including Eye skeins.
Insiders also note that the CBS and the other Big Four nets have more leverage with the Academy this year considering that the Emmys are heading into the last two years of an eight-year broadcast deal worth $52 million overall. The academy will have to negotiate a new contract for the kudocast next year, increasing the pressure to improve ratings for this year’s show.
Mischer’s comments to reporters came on the heels of a meeting of the TV Acad’s board of governors in which the time-shifting plan was laid out, and ultimately endorsed by more than 40 members of the board. Four members voted against the shift and at least eight members abstained from the vote.
The decision to make this radical shift in the live Emmycast was made by the board in February, before Mischer was tapped to exec produce this year’s show, as he noted on the call. The final particulars of which categories would be affected were left to be determined in consultation with Mischer and CBS.
Sources say that at one point the board discussed simply moving all the writing and directing awards out of the main telecast, but that the current compromise spreads the impact around — encompassing two awards each for writing, directing, acting and producing. The affected categories in the producing branch are likely to be the movie and miniseries categories.
While made-fors and minis are expected to be disproportionately affected, longform acting categories will remain in the telecast, thanks in no small measure to the star power of this year’s nominees, who include Drew Barrymore, Jessica Lange, Kenneth Branagh and Ian McKellen.
Mischer emphasized that the taped segments will not be just split-second clips but will list the nominees in the category, as in the live award presentations, and then include a “coherent, substantial statement” from the winner. “We’re not just going to cut to a shot of people standing up there and waving.”
As an multi-Emmy winner himself, Mischer said the plan in the works is a compromise that “I never would have been unhappy with” as a nominee. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The shifting of the eight awards will save 12-15 minutes of telecast time. Mischer said they are hammering out plans to use that time to feature highlights and notable moments from the past television season. And they’re also working out plans to add an interactive element to allow viewers to vote on their favorite show. There’s also said to be talk about a segment featuring homemade vids from viewers talking about their favorite shows.
Mischer asserted on the call that AMC’s “Mad Men,” last year’s drama series champ, was “my favorite show on television.” But he also noted that “Mad Men” had an average aud of 1.3 million viewers last season, compared with 18 million for CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” which is not a big Emmy contender this year. “Mad Men,” on the other hand, has 16 noms and is a player in most top categories.
Mischer also noted that viewership has rebounded in recent years for other kudocasts that have streamlined their award presentations and focused on audience-pleasing elements. He cited the Grammy Awards and Tony Awards, both of which air on CBS, as examples. And Mischer stressed the importance of ratings to helping to maintain the prestige of the Emmy Award by making sure the Emmycast itself qualifies as event television.
“The Emmys were never intended to be the People’s Choice Awards,” Mischer acknowledged. “They should celebrate the very best in television. They’re about the quality of the work, not the number of viewers — as it should be.” But at the same time they can’t ignore the need for ratings, so the challenge is to strike a balance that “maintains the integrity of the Emmy brand,” Mischer said.