×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Emmys 2018: Special Events Yield New ‘Apples to Apples Competition’ Rules

Live television events, such as award shows or concerts featuring Jennifer Lopez or John Legend ripping up the stage, can make a TV audience feel like they’re sitting in the front row. But are they the same thing as a taped show of a comic standing at the mic? The Emmys don’t think so, which is why they’ve reorganized the previously murky variety special class categories into variety special (live) and variety special (pre-recorded).

“[Now] it’s a more apples-to-apples competition, with live-to-air variety specials in one category and live-to-tape variety specials in another,” says John Leverence, senior vice president of awards at the Television Academy.

With “special class” a loose term, prior years saw a mélange of diverse special events crowded together and competing against each other. But producers who have worked on both types of special programs maintain that nothing rivals the high-stakes of live shows.

“The energy, the spontaneity, when you capture that moment — that translates to viewers at home,” says Bart Stephens, executive producer of “DirecTV Now Super Saturday Night: Jennifer Lopez,” which aired live on AT&T Audience Network. Her pre-Super Bowl concert could have been taped, Stephens acknowledges, but “we feel it is a better presentation live.”

The first new category honors the specialized art form of live television, which includes split-second decision-making by producers and the need to be flexible as the unexpected occurs.

“You can cue a musician, you can’t cue a lioness on the hunt,” says Al Berman, executive producer of National Geographic’s “Earth Live.” “It was the feeling of breaking news … and you don’t know where the information is going to come from next and where the video is going to come from.”

A program like “Earth Live” will compete against standard-bearers such as the Grammys, which Berman acknowledges are “great shows … produced by wonderfully talented people.” But what he thinks sets his apart is that it accomplished something never done before — it broadcast simultaneously from 26 countries on six continents.

Some producers, such as Andrew C. Wilk of PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center,” will hedge bets and submit in both categories. “Falsettos” will vie in the pre-recorded category while his New Year’s Eve special falls under the live section.

“Special class used to be a safe haven for shows that were neither fish nor fowl,” Wilk says. “Then it got flooded with awards shows. How do we compete with the Tonys and the Oscars or the halftime show at the Super Bowl? They ruined the safe haven, and they mucked it up for the shows that were truly special class. This may prove to be better.”

With more clearly defined parameters, executive producers submitting programs in both categories are mostly embracing the revision.

“It is actually a more accurate way to discern and compare,” says Marc Platt, an executive producer of “A Christmas Story Live!” on Fox and “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” on NBC. “Perhaps it makes it more competitive, and in that regard it seems apt to me to do that.”

But Ken Ehrlich, longtime executive producer of the Grammys on CBS, who has also produced the Emmys, is less sold on the new rule classification in place this year.

“I have watched the categories at the Emmys proliferate,” Ehrlich says. “They never seem to get it right.”

More TV

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content