A year after an awards debacle rocked the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) and nearly took down the Daytime Emmys, the organization has instituted new rules that officials hope have made this year’s proceedings fairer. One major one was to stop the practice of posting acting reel submissions from some key categories online.
Five years ago NATAS instituted the practice of sharing the clips with the hopes of building “fan excitement for the telecast and engagement on social media,” NATAS president and CEO Adam Sharp tells Variety. But, instead, NATAS felt it wound up providing competitors in certain categories a weapon to potentially take down a rival, if the organization had missed a submission error.
Not all categories were posted online, leading some entrants to face additional scrutiny by the public, while others didn’t. Last year, competitors’ scrutiny of the guest performer in a digital daytime drama series category led to the revocation of Patrika Darbo’s award.
“Looking at the original issue that brought up these protests and this investigation last year, where one entrant in the competition had gone on YouTube and pulled the reels of his competitors and, awards manual in hand, scrutinized every second of those reels and found potential violations that our staff in the vetting process and our judges in the judging process had missed; well, he only screened the categories that his show was competing in,” Sharp says.
“So the same way as you wouldn’t want a scenario where, in the middle of a trial all the evidence is put on the courthouse steps and the public can just come up and challenge whatever pieces they want and overrule the jury in the process, we determined that essentially handing these on-air raw submission materials over to competitors in a category would create the potential for abuse and the potential for an unfair imbalance.”
Per Sharp, NATAS decided that if it was going to upload clip reels, the org would either have to do it for every category and every entry — or do it for none. They opted to do it for none, although the clips are still available for reporters and other members of the media to review.
“We simply did not have the production resources to do it for everybody this year,” Sharp says. “And we don’t have the rights.”
Sharp believes that NATAS (the East Coast counterpart to Hollywood’s TV Academy, which administers the Primetime Emmys) had taken pains this year to avoid the same mistakes that plagued last year’s voting. But if there were still errors, those mistakes should be consistent across the competition — and not only scrutinized in the categories where videos were made available to competitors.That’s why, as a compromise, those submission reels were still made available for the media to investigate.
“The press generally can be relied upon to take a more impartial, balanced approach to be looking at the material in equal context,” Sharp says. “It’s not the same as making it public where the motivations of the different people accessing that content may not be as consistently impartial as the press are.”
When Sharp first joined NATAS last year as the interim president and CEO (he was given the job permanently in December), he almost immediately faced a boycott by network TV’s four major soap operas — “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Days of Our Lives,” “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless.” At the time, members from those shows said they lost confidence in the Daytime Emmys voting system after the group revoked Darbo’s Emmy and then found errors in a back-up winner’s submission, and opted not to award anyone in the category.
Sharp commissioned an independent investigation into its voting process. The report found that an understaffed NATAS awards team had become a bit sloppy and slow to respond to concerns.
“We started looking at all our practices, to determine where the situations were appearing, out of no real intent, we were creating unfairness,” Sharp says, noting that “one of the big themes” of the report was the notion of fairness. “Little innocuous things along the way that don’t seem at the time to create an imbalance could, in fact, be affecting results, or at least give the impression of it. That final report, warts and all, was made public as soon as we received it.”
Darbo tells Variety she’s still unhappy with how things were handled last year — including having her Emmy revoked, when others with similar submission issues got to keep theirs — and she’s not yet confident that NATAS has resolved all of its Emmy problems.
“I just believe if there’s smoke, there’s fire,” she says. “There are still things going on that shouldn’t be going on there. There are still a lot of inequities going on there.”
Among her complaints: That non-NATAS members are often brought in to participate in the judging. Sharp said non-NATAS members are allowed to judge, in order to bring in enough experts, but aren’t ideal. The org hopes to work with the west coast TV Academy in the future to utilize some of its members for judging. (He also noted that all judges are submitted to the Television Academy for approval, so any non-member judge is pre-vetted and approved by both Academies.)
The four network soaps didn’t follow through on their threatened boycott after NATAS began instituting changes; Sharp says he hoped the org’s moves would restore confidence in the system. He also says NATAS doubled the size of its awards team, which helped improve its response time. “Matters that last year would have taken weeks to address when someone raised a complaint, if they were addressed at all under our old systems, were addressed in hours, or not more than days,” he explains.
And indeed, Sharp confirms that several entries were tossed out because they didn’t meet the contest’s requirements. Also, two nominees were removed in the weeks after nominations were announced: In one case, Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” had been nominated for costume design — but Disney informed NATAS that “Raven’s Home,” which had previously competed in the Daytime Emmys, was moving its nominations to Primetime Emmys this year. (The show’s costume designer had sent in their own nomination, which Disney asked be rescinded.) In the other case, the MTV promo for “Thank Your Hero — Quiet Heroes” was removed from consideration in the outstanding daytime promotion announcement—topical category because it was determined the spot was promoting a primetime repeat of the special.
Sharp also says NATAS received a “record number” of Daytime Emmy submissions for this year’s awards (which takes place May 5 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium), but he didn’t yet reveal that number. The org will release another “transparency report” after this year’s ceremony to explain how it addressed some of the concerns raised this year over the course of the competition.
“This year we tried to excise from our rules a lot of ambiguities like [the definition of an “episode’], tried to provide more definitions, and I think over the course of the year discovered a few other areas where we could keep strengthening,” Sharp says. “I wouldn’t put down the Daytime Emmys as perfect. I don’t think any competition is perfect, especially when trying to award an industry that is changing so rapidly. But we have made substantial gains over last year. I think we’re now staying ahead of that curve better than we ever have.”
[Pictured: Daytime Emmys hosts Sheryl Underwood and Mario Lopez.]