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Report Faults NATAS’ Handling of Daytime Emmy Awards Competition

New York-based TV academy vows to bring 'consistency and transparency' to kudos rules

An investigation into the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ handling of the Daytime Emmy Awards has found a competition that was rife with irregularities and the potential for favoritism in the nominations and final judging process.

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences commissioned a probe by the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth to review its procedures and practices after challenges were made to two of this year’s Daytime Emmy winners on eligibility grounds.

The 20-page report paints a picture of an overworked NATAS staff that became “sloppy” in the application of its own rules for the Daytime Emmy competition. The explosion in programming as spurred a nearly 30% rise during the past few years in the number of submissions for the annual daytime TV competition. NATAS staff has struggled to keep up with the volume at a time when the academy is producing more award shows and events than ever.

For any competition to be perceived as legitimate, its rules must be clearly announced and strictly and consistently enforced. The 2018 Daytime Emmy Awards competition did not meet such a standard,” the report states. “While we found no evidence that NATAS staff intentionally rigged the competition results, NATAS staff did not afford equitable treatment to all submissions. Similarly, once rule violations were discovered, NATAS staff did not act objectively to correct competition errors in a consistent manner. This situation was compounded by a lack of complete written rules and procedures for rectifying an already difficult and complex situation.”

In the wake of the scandal, NATAS is vowing to bring more transparency and consistency to the administration of the awards. The org said it would clearly separate the jobs of overseeing the competition process and that of producing the annual ceremony.

“We recognize how important it is that we are crystal clear on our policies, procedures and rules around the Daytime Emmys,” Adam Sharp, interim president and CEO of NATAS, told Variety. “Any gap or failing there can impact entrants’ confidence entire system and that can damage the stature of the award.”

Sharp said no staffers had been fired or reprimanded as a result of the report. But some of those who work on Daytime Emmys will change their areas of focus as a result of the report’s recommendations, he said.

Concerns were also raised about NATAS’ protocol for assembling judging panels for the nominations and final winners. The report found that NATAS staff occasionally directly recruited people to serve as judges when they didn’t have enough members volunteering for the panels.

Several interviewees expressed concern about NATAS staff’s assembly of panels based on their personal contacts, even if such contacts are vetted by staff and found to be qualified,” the report states. “To prevent such confusion, NATAS should establish and distribute objective written criteria for eligibility to serve as a panel judge.”

The report details the problems that arose because NATAS did not have written policies for the eligibility requirements for certain Daytime Emmy categories.

The source of the friction for NATAS centered around the awards in two categories: supporting actor in a digital daytime series and guest performer in a digital daytime series.

NATAS rules state that video reel submissions in the digital supporting actor category must be taken from a single episode of the series. In the digital guest performer category, actors may not have appeared in a prior season of the show.

The 2018 winners in those categories — Eric Nelsen of “The Bay” and Patrika Darbo of “The Bay” — were found to have violated those rules. Challenges to the eligibility of Nelsen and Darbo’s nominations were made a few days before the April 29 award ceremony by producer Michael Caruso. The report found fault with NATAS’ handling of Caruso’s inquiry and the inconsistent application of the rules.

NATAS staffers decided to stand by Nelsen’s win because of confusion about the submission requirements and the fact that the rules regarding the number of episodes were changed for the 2018 competition.

NATAS staffers rescinded Darbo’s win because she had appeared in prior seasons of “The Bay.” Compounding the messy situation was the decision made by NATAS staffers to alert actor Jennifer Bassey that she was to be named the new winner in the digital guest actor category for her work in “Anacostia,” as she received the second highest number of votes following Darbo. But that was also tabled when it was discovered that Bassey’s submission also violated the rules by containing material from two episodes of the series. NATAS wound up issue no award in the category for 2018.

“We did not find any indication NATAS or NATAS staff intentionally attempted to influence or alter the initial outcome of the award competition,” the report states. “However, we observed many instances in which circumstances and NATAS staff decisions gave rise to, at minimum, the appearance of impropriety and favoritism, which have caused observers to believe the awards competition and the resolution of the awarding of Emmy Awards in Categories 39 and 40 was not conducted in an impartial manner. As one interviewee aptly described the circumstances described herein, this was ‘sloppy.’ ”

The report details a slew of recommendations to strengthen NATAS’ procedures, including greater transparency at all levels and the addition of another full time staffer and two part-time staffers to vet the higher volume of submissions. Sharp said the recommendations would be applied across all of NATAS’ awards competitions, notably the News and Documentary Emmy Awards and the Sports Emmy Awards.

Sharp said NATAS would make an effort to work more closely with its West Coast counterpart, the Television Academy, to recruit judges for Daytime Emmys and to share information on best practices and procedures. NATAS and the Television Academy have long had a chilly relationship ever since NATAS split off from what was previously the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1977.

The flap over the 2018 awards also adds to image problem that the Daytime Emmys have faced in recent years. The ceremony has not aired on linear TV since 2015, when it was carried by cabler Pop.

Sharp said he expects the Daytime Emmys ceremony to remain a live webcast next year. In his view, a webcast is fitting at a time when programs from digital players such as Netflix and Amazon have been a big factor in the higher volume of Daytime Emmy submissions.

“The last several years we’ve found a lot of success online,” Sharp said. “Last year our streaming audience was the largest total audience we’ve had since we were last in primetime.”

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