TV Academy Will No Longer Allow Inactive Members to Vote for Emmys (EXCLUSIVE)

A new vetting process means long-time industry veterans will still be eligible to vote for the Emmys, however.

Emmys statue
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The Television Academy is introducing a vetting process to its Emmy-voting body, in a move that it hopes will “uphold the caliber of the Emmy Awards competition and the vibrancy of its membership.”

In a letter sent to the organization’s membership on Friday afternoon, the Academy detailed new efforts to review Emmy voting status. Beginning in January 2020, the membership renewal process will also serve as determination on whether one is active enough in the industry to vote for the Emmys. Going forward, Emmy voters will be required to meet their peer group’s active membership requirements, which usually includes current or recent working experience in their field. (In many cases, that means multiple credits on productions within the past four years.)

For legacy members who might be retired or have already made their mark on the industry, the Academy will continue to allow members who have worked for two decades in the entertainment business, and would have qualified for active membership for at least 16 years during their career, to vote in the Emmys.

Others, such as new members or those who only briefly worked in the industry a while ago, will be shifted to “associate status,” which still includes most membership benefits (such as access to peer group networking events and a subscription to Emmy magazine) — but they will no longer be able to cast Emmy ballots.

“Everything we’ve talked about over the past few years is the integrity and the value of the Emmy award,” Television Academy chairman/CEO Frank Scherma told Variety. “It’s making sure that the strength of the Emmy stays and continues to grow. It’s very important to us. By doing this, a periodic review of the people voting on these awards, we just want to make sure they are both active professionals and industry veterans who are the best to judge these awards.”

There are already voting and non-voting classifications in place, although those distinctions have not been actively policed by the Academy. But now that the org’s membership base is more than 25,000, the decision was made to keep a closer eye on who is actually helping determine primetime TV’s biggest prize.

TV Academy president-COO Maury McIntyre said he expects that the majority of members will continue to be able to vote on the Emmys, and that those being moved to non-voting status will represent “a low percentage, single digits.”

“It’s written in our bylaws that every year that you renew, if you’ve been a member with voting status, you’re asserting that you still meet all of [the Academy’s] requirements,” McIntyre said. “We just haven’t been checking it. We just kind of took it on face value that you became a member, you qualified, and you kept being a member. Now that we’re 25,000 members-plus, we know that the industry wants to be confident that the people who are voting for the award are qualified to do so. And we feel this is a good way to show that, and state that with confidence.”

To make sure the Academy has each member’s up-to-date work info, members will be asked to update their credits section on the org’s website.

The vetting will take place when each individual’s Academy membership comes up for renewal — which means it will be an ongoing process over the next several years. The TV Academy has expanded its membership department, adding new staffers to handle the increased workload. “Clearly it’s going to be a bigger undertaking than it’s been in the past, since it’s a whole new way that we’re reviewing,” McIntyre said. “Not only will we have to review new applicants, but we’ll have to review our ongoing ones. But that’s why we’re taking a phase approach. We’re easing into it.”

Scherma and McIntyre said they know there might be some concern with the change, but said their intent isn’t to lose any members. “It’s just a shift of status,” McIntyre said. “And this is about people who maybe worked in the late 1990s for a couple of years and were able to join the Academy, and they haven’t really worked since then. I don’t think that anyone can argue that those people should be voting for the Emmys at this point.”

The vetting process might have an impact on ultimately what is nominated or wins at the Emmys — active members are likely younger, and more diverse, than associate members. (With the exception of new associate members, who are just entering the business and working their way up to active status.) Academy leaders said it was important to keep legacy members in the voting body, however, “because they’ve got the gravitas for all the work that they’ve done over the years, and we feel that they deserve it,” Scherma said.

The Academy will also institute an appeals process for anyone who feels that they should still be eligible to vote in the Emmys, despite being designated an associate member.

“We want to make sure that we don’t rush through this and that we do it right,” Scherma said. “As we’re first starting off, it will be a little bit slower as we figure out things. The last thing we want to do is rush through this and push out members that shouldn’t be pushed out. So we’ll be smart about this, and take our time. If it takes a little longer to do it correctly, we prefer to do that.”

The TV Academy’s decision to take a deeper look at the Emmy voting body comes a few years after the motion picture academy also clarified, in 2016, who is eligible to vote for the Oscars. In a bid to make the Academy Awards more diverse, the Academy ruled that its members are considered active if they’ve worked on at least one film in the past 10 years. Any members who have been active during three 10-year terms gets lifetime Oscar voting rights — as does anyone who has won, or been nominated, for an Oscar. Currently there are just under 8,000 voting motion picture academy members.