TV animation scribes file Emmy complaint

Producers, writers petition for eligiblity in non-animated writing categories

More than 50 animation exec producers and writers, including Seth MacFarlane of “Family Guy” and Al Jean of “The Simpsons,” registered a complaint Monday with the Television Academy over their inability to submit animated scripts in non-animated writing categories at the Primetime Emmys.

The letter, sent to the TV Academy and its chair, Bruce Rosenblum, reacts to the presence of NBC sitcom “Community” in two animated Emmy categories for the 2012 awards.

“Community” is typically a live-action show, but one of its final episodes of the past season (“Digital Estate Planning”) was largely animated and earned a spot in the animated program competition. In addition, an animated web series using “Community” characters has been placed in contention for a short-form animated kudo.

Jean told Variety that “what they are doing with ‘Community’ is what we said they should do all along” for animated series.

“Why not?” Jean asked. “If a writer of an animated program wants to submit for a writing Emmy, great. And if it’s not good enough, it won’t win.”

The TV Academy responded with a statement explaining its position, noting that – in contrast to other genres – animation producers, writers and directors enter the animated program category as a team. There are no separate categories for individual achievement in animation writing and directing.

The implication is that animation writers are already competing for a writing Emmy, via the animation category, even though they are not shown to be in a specific writing category. To be clear, the specific “Community” episode isn’t under consideration for an Emmy in more than one category. “Community” has submitted three episodes in the comedy writing category, but “Digital Estate Planning,” written by Matt Warburton, was not one of them.

Warburton, since hired to be the showrunner of Fox fall comedy “The Mindy Project,” came to “Community” by way of “The Simpsons,” for which he has several writing and producing credits.

The complaint’s signees, who also include “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and former Writers Guild of America West prexy Patric M. Verrone (“Futurama”), weren’t seeking to inhibit or criticize “Community” but indicated that the “Community” submissions are a final straw in a matter that dates back 20 years.

“Family Guy,” for example, has an episode in the comedy writing category (written by Steve Callaghan) – but in doing so, forced its own removal from the top animation program race. “Community,” on the other hand, remains in the comedy series race despite its animation presence.

“We have been told that animated program writers could not also submit their work for writing Emmys, for reasons we never understood, but supposedly pertaining to the purity of the branches,” the letter states. “This is why no one was more startled than we when last year ‘Community’ was able to submit for comedy series, writing and animated program, in the face of everything we had been told for two decades. We were told that for some reason, a one-time waiver was granted.

“Imagine our surprise when this year we see “Community” once again eligible for comedy series, writing, animated program, and short-form animated program. Clearly the Academy’s ban on submitting in multiple categories is being enforced in an arbitrary and unfair manner.”

The letter concludes by requesting that animated programs be able to submit “for both animation and comedy series as well as in the writing category.”

Said Jean: ” In fact, as an animation branch member, I can’t even vote in the writing category, and I’ve been a writer for 30 years.”

From the Academy’s perspective, the flexibility with “Community” flowed from the fact that its format was significantly different for the episode it submitted outside of the comedy categories.

” ‘Community’ is a comedy series that for the last two years has included an animated ‘special episode,'” the Acad said in its statement. “The competition includes a rule that a special episode can enter as a standalone special, ‘if it involved a significant and substantive format change throughout.’

“The ‘Community’ producers followed that rule when they entered the producer-writer-director team for the animated episode in the animation category and the regular, live-action episodes in the comedy series program and comedy series individual achievement categories.”