Latin Emmys proposal splits academies

Dec 30, 2002  •  Post A Comment

And the Emmy for most excellent feud goes to … the TV academies that dispense the Emmys.
The decades-long cool war between the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, headquartered in New York with 18 chapters scattered throughout the country and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, has heated up again.
The flash point this time is the question of how to say “excellent” to those who make Spanish-language programming-from entertainment to news-that’s telecast in the United States.
NATAS has proposed a Latin Emmy awards show to be telecast alternately on Telemundo and Univision starting in 2003. But since the terms of the 1977 divorce settlement brokered between the academies requires both parties to sign off on any new Emmy competition, ATAS was able to say not so fast.
NATAS hired high-profile attorney David Boies, and on Dec. 19 demanded arbitration on the issue, which was just the latest reminder that there’s more than a continent dividing the two academies. The vast and deep schisms break along lines of economics and growth, self-determination and philosophy.
Now language has been added to that mix. Opponents of the new ceremony wonder whether an attempt to create a separate competition rooted in language equals segregation, a particularly complicated and
touchy question, since this country’s TV networks are under pressure to give Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, more key roles on and off camera.
Raul Meteu, senior VP in charge of Spanish-language business for William Morris and chairman of NATAS’ Latin Emmy organizing committee, said advertiser interest in the concept of a Latin Emmys is so high “the NATAS folks have gotten blind offers for rights deals.”
The National Latino Media Council has “a huge problem” with the title “Latin Emmys,” calling it a “misnomer and prejudicial,” but the group does not object to “Emmys en Espanol,” according to Chairman Esteban Torres.
Council member Moctesuma Esparza, the producer of such award-winning projects as “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” believes “language is being confused with ethnicity.”
Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, in November notified NATAS President Peter Price that “after giving the matter serious thought and consulting with others, I firmly believe your plans will advance the interests of the Latino community in the U.S. We therefore endorse the `Latino Emmys’ and pledge our support for this endeavor.
Among the groups to which Mr. Price and Mr. Meteu reached out is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Its outgoing and incoming chairmen, Rep. Solomon Ortiz and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, respectively, both Texas Democrats, released a statement on Christmas Eve nominating Imagen, a foundation that has “a long and rich history of rewarding Hispanic talent,” to serve as a “bridge between the players in working to find an appropriate Emmy for Hispanic talent.”
`Pre-emptive strike’
The players used language less circumspect and more colorful after NATAS accused ATAS of “impeding” the establishment of the Latin Emmys and filed its demand with the American Arbitration Association.
There was a dispute over who lawyered up first. Newly installed ATAS President Todd Leavitt said his academy was surprised by what he called NATAS’ “Pearl Harbor-style pre-emptive strike.”
Mr. Price said that last summer ATAS threatened to seek an injunction that would put NATAS’ planning for the Latin Emmy on hold.
Mr. Price said NATAS has received four “`Thou shalt not’ letters from [ATAS] lawyers” in the past six months. The subjects included NATAS’ new student excellence awards program and the Latin Emmys proposal.
“They’ve been exploring the Latin Emmys since June,” Mr. Price said. “They’ve always said, `We’re going to have a look at it and get back to you.’ They’ve been looking at it and studying it. They’ve been talking to people endlessly. They say, `There is no timetable.’ We’re patient and we wait, and they call back and say, `We’re looking at it.”’
Prime-time economics
NATAS thinks ATAS can afford not to have a timetable on the Latin Emmys proposal because it just played big-bucks HBO off the Big 4 broadcast networks and got a big fat raise in licensing fees-$52 million for an eight-year contract-for the Primetime Emmy Awards, the program deeded to ATAS when the two long-feuding groups split in 1977.
NATAS, on the other hand, was awarded the less marketable Emmys for daytime programming, still thought to be earning a license fee of $3 million under a quietly negotiated new contract, along with the public service, news and documentaries, and sports programming awards. No networks are standing in line to broadcast the sports and news-documentary Emmy ceremonies.
“We can’t extract [rights] increases like they can,” Mr. Price said. “They are self-sufficient. We aren’t.”
Peter Murietta is the creator and executive producer of The WB’s “Greetings From Tucson.” His father immigrated from Mexico. Mr. Murietta spoke Spanish at home as a child but says his Spanish today is “not perfect.”
He has mixed feelings (“I’m not a fan of the Latin Grammys”) and many questions about a separate Spanish-language Emmy. The questions range from whether his comedy and ABC’s “The George Lopez Show,” which are simulcast in Spanish, would be eligible for competition to how to sort out the agendas behind both academies’ “posturing.”