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Competition for Emmys

Paley Center sets up TV awards planning committee

The Paley Center for Media is moving one step closer to mounting a rival to the Emmy Awards.

The org announced Wednesday that Sony Pictures TV prexy Steve Mosko will co-chair a Paley Center for Media Television Awards planning committee, along with Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra and Lippin Group chairman-CEO Dick Lippin.

It’s unclear how interested the networks are in a Paley kudofest, as planning is still in the early stages. But it’s telling that the head of a broadcast network is helping lead the rival Paley Center charge.

The outcome could be significant not only for the future of the awards but for the Paley Center as well.

All three committee members are very knowledgeable about the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences but no longer involved with the org. Mosko, who’s been leading the charge to launch a counter to the much-maligned Emmycast, once headed up the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences Foundation.

Meanwhile, the Lippin Group handled the TV Academy’s press — including the Primetime Emmy Awards — for more than a decade.

But Lippin and ATAS parted ways in December.

The Paley Center has kicked around the idea of launching a major awards show for years, as it looks for alternatives to raise funds beyond its expensive brick-and-mortar museums and events in New York and Los Angeles.

“The formation of this planning committee is to explore the opportunities that we believe exist to create an awards program or franchise of programs,” said Paley Center prexy/CEO Pat Mitchell.

“We are very fortunate that a portion of Mr. William S. Paley’s funding of our institution envisioned awards as a way to recognize excellence and innovation in programming and to celebrate the best in the media business.”

The org already is behind a series of annual TV specials, like last year’s “TV’s 50 Funniest Catchphrases” (which ran on NBC). But a major awards show would bring a heftier license fee, and give the org a much larger national presence.

The idea took on more steam last fall, as several networks were approached about their interest in mounting an alternative to the Emmys (Daily Variety, Dec. 21).

Timing is everything, and in this case, the move to launch a rival awards show comes as the four major networks are heading into the final year of an eight-year deal in which the Emmycast has rotated among them.

In 2002 the TV Academy was able to negotiate an advantageous fee — $52 million over the contract’s term, an average of $6.5 million annually — after HBO played the role of stalking horse by proposing a five-year, $50 million deal.

But the networks have indicated that they expect the next pact to be less generous — bad news for the TV Academy, which derives the lion’s share of its annual budget from the Emmy ceremony.

The Emmycast saw its ratings grow last September on CBS, although a similar improvement may be tough this year as NBC has shifted the event to August due to its football commitments.

A Paley awards show would likely be unencumbered by some of the below-the-line awards that the TV Academy must hand out on air. As the TV Acad learned last year, tweaking how and when those Primetime Emmys are handed out leads to industry furor. Yet the sheer number of statues presented on the telecast prevent Emmy producers from making big changes to the show, as CBS and producers proposed last year to shift some award presentations to a pre-taped ceremony.

The TV Academy declined comment Wednesday on the Paley announcement.

Fox is one of the networks that runs the Emmy Awards every fourth year. It’s unclear whether Vinciquerra’s involvement means that Fox would have the advantage in securing the Paley Center kudofest, if it becomes reality. But insiders warned not to read much into Vinciquerra’s involvement.

Vinciquerra already serves as a co-chair of the Los Angeles Paley Center Board of Governors and as a trustee of the Paley Center in New York, so his involvement isn’t much of a surprise.

“The economics of television and our industry have changed radically in the last few years. So too have the tastes of the television viewing audience,” Vinciquerra said.

“Our goal will be to marry the benefits that can accrue to our business by showcasing its content in the best ways possible while making our awards programming highly entertaining and appealing television.”

According to sources, the Paley Center and the award organizers hope to launch a show as soon as May 2011, tied to the upfronts — and beating the Emmys to the punch in honoring that year’s shows.

“We will look closely at what is in the best interests of our industry and the public and make our committee members an integral part of our discussion and planning,” Mosko said.

Next up, Mosko, Vinciquerra and Lippin will recruit members to join the committee and start mapping out what a Paley kudofest might look like.

Past attempts to launch a rival kudocast to the Emmys have come up short.

In 2001, CBS joined with the American Film Institute to create an awards showcase, but the low-rated exercise lasted only a short time.

Other made-for-TV awards of limited duration have included the American Television Awards and TV Guide Awards on ABC and Fox, respectively.

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