Editorial: Emmys deserve better handling

Sep 23, 2002  •  Post A Comment

It’s not like the big TV networks to overlook a potential franchise. NBC’s tireless milking of the “Law & Order” cash cow and CBS’s recent leap onto the franchise bandwagon with “CSI” are just two illustrations of their fondness for a sure thing. Even battered ABC finds seasonal relief from its ratings gloom in such franchises as the Academy Awards telecast and “Monday Night Football.”
It’s somewhat shocking, then, that the networks have failed to capitalize on one of the hottest potential franchises in prime time: the Emmy Awards. The nets have been treating the Primetime Emmys like a redheaded stepchild for years, as though they never noticed it is the single event that shines a light most brightly on the TV industry itself. The paltry $7 million in estimated license and production fees a network pays the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the privilege of hosting the Emmys broadcast proves the event has nowhere near the cachet of the Academy Awards ($50 million) or even the Grammys ($25 million).
And that’s a shame. Both Hollywood and the music industry have learned to cash in on their annual galas. Each year, CD sales soar after the Grammys telecast. Oscar buzz, meanwhile, is a year-round phenomenon, benefiting the entire film industry.
So why hasn’t television, the very medium that brings each of these galas to the public, cashed in similarly on its own big night?
The answer may be rooted in politics. With the membership of ATAS including contingents from each of the networks, the academy is reluctant to either alienate or favor any single network. And so, unlike the Oscars, which found a happy home on ABC, and the Grammys, which are thriving on CBS, the Emmys are passed around among the Big 4 networks from year to year.
One result has been an absence of the kind of momentum that comes from a network putting its full promotional weight behind a franchise event. Ratings have been lackluster, and the whole Emmy phenomenon comes and goes each year without generating as much excitement as it should outside the television industry.
Changes in Emmy voting procedures in recent years have been well-received, but the show itself could use an infusion of pizazz. Without one network running the show and having a stake in its ongoing success, improvements have been slow to come.
The current licensing arrangement for the Emmys is set to expire on Oct. 14, at which time ATAS has indicated it will negotiate to continue the rotating arrangement that has been in place for a decade. But it has also said it wants higher license fees and is willing to seek an exclusive network deal if that’s what it takes to get them. That scenario might be the best deal for everyone.
With one network on the job, the franchise could be built into the kind of prestigious event the industry deserves, an arrangement that would in turn benefit all the networks.