Guest Commentary: An Emmy show you can bank on

Oct 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Emmy show will go on because there’s no business like show business. The twice-postponed ceremony that honors the best in television has been rescheduled for Nov. 4. This could put it in direct conflict with a potential seventh game of the World Series.
Executives from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and CBS, which will televise the special, tried to wrap themselves in the red, white and blue in announcing the new date, saying it is in keeping with the president’s call for America to resume business as usual. However, it is clear that they are motivated by another color-green.
The academy stood to lose the $3 million license fee CBS paid for the show if it did not go on, in addition to substantial revenue for tickets-which cost as much as $500 apiece-and the proceeds from the post-ceremonies dinner. CBS is not paying $3 million out of altruism. The network stands to make a handsome profit from advertising.
CBS President Leslie Moonves acknowledged as much. “Clearly this is a big-ticket item for CBS, so we’re glad it’s going on,” he said.
Mr. Moonves, one of the most competitive men in show business, also appreciates the unintended benefits CBS will reap from the uncommonly late date for the Emmys. Traditionally, the Emmys are staged just before the start of the official Nielsen season, which would have been the case this year if they had been held as planned on Sept. 16. This is so the network carrying them-ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox rotate the rights-does not get an undue ratings advantage.
Nov. 4, however, is the first Sunday of the critical November sweeps, the period when ad rates are set for the next three months. CBS will not only get a special that is likely to generate significantly higher ratings than the movie it had scheduled (“Beyond the Prairie”), but it will also neutralize major programming initiatives of its competitors.
NBC, for example, announced last summer that its only miniseries of the sweeps month, “Uprising,” about a heroic Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, will premiere that night. The impact of the Emmys will spill over onto Part 2 on Monday, since viewers who missed opening night are unlikely to join the presentation for its concluding installment. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Monday is a strong night for CBS.
Even the late newscasts of affiliates around the country will be affected because of the atypically strong lead-in the Emmys will provide.
What’s more, scheduling the Emmys opposite a potential decisive game of the World Series is unfair to the Hollywood people being honored, because Game 7 of the World Series is almost always the second-most-watched sports program of the year, behind only the Super Bowl. If the Yankees and/or the Atlanta Braves (“America’s Team”) are involved, interest would be even higher than usual.
Mr. Moonves dismissed this, saying only 20 percent of World Series go seven games. However, this makes the situation no more improbable than any single nominee winning an Emmy from the traditional field of five. This conflict could have been avoided by putting the Emmys on Nov. 2 or 6, when there is no baseball scheduled. However, Sunday is the night when the television audience is at its largest and rivals put on their most valuable programs.
CBS hopes to gain one other minor benefit from the Emmys. Ellen DeGeneres, who has a new sitcom on CBS, remains the host. “Danny,” a sitcom paired with “The Ellen Show” on Friday nights, became the first cancellation of this fall. “The Ellen Show,” whose ratings are only marginally better, was not canceled, clearly out of the hope that the Emmys will allow Ms. DeGeneres to raise her profile.
It will be interesting to see how many stars from shows on competing networks decide (or are encouraged) not to attend the CBS event. Attendance is likely to be down under any circumstances.
The academy all but acknowledged it expects a smaller turnout; the latest show has been moved from the cavernous Shrine Auditorium to the much smaller Shubert Theater in Century City, Calif. There will not be room for everyone if they want to come.
But these Emmys aren’t about stars and shows. They are strictly business.
Tom Jicha is the TV/radio writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where this piece first appeared.