2005 Emmy Spotlight: Time is Prime for Newcomers

Jun 6, 2005  •  Post A Comment

With such shows as “Frasier” and “The Sopranos” missing from the television landscape this past season, the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will have open races in an unprecedented number of categories, providing opportunities for new series to walk away with statuettes in their first season on the air.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which will hold its annual Emmy ceremony Sept. 18 at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, is known for stability when it comes to nominations for comedy and drama series.

“You have a pretty slow rotation,” ATAS VP of Awards John Leverence said of nominations for acting, writing and directing for dramas and comedies. “In any given year you have 60 to 80 percent returns. Just by the fact of series going out of production, there is more opportunity for new programming coming in.”

If ratings, critical acclaim and pop culture buzz mean anything, the prime beneficiaries from the newly open real estate could be a slew of first-season broadcast shows that have given the networks their best-rated seasons in the adults 18 to 49 demographic in recent memory.

On ABC, the hour-long Sunday night series “Desperate Housewives” is considered a strong contender in the comedy series, writing, directing and actress categories, while the airplane disaster series “Lost” could reap the benefits of so many openings on the drama side. NBC’s “Medium” and Fox’s “House” are two more new dramas that are actively lobbying for nominations.

Last year’s Emmy Awards marked the final year of eligibility for outgoing comedy stalwarts “Frasier,” “Sex and the City” and “Friends.” And due to HBO’s nontraditional programming schedule, award show darlings “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Sopranos,” which were eligible for last year’s Emmys, didn’t run episodes during this year’s eligibility period.

Last year’s wins on the comedy acting side proved that series in their final season were favorites. “Sex and the City” scored both comedy actress wins while “Frasier” took the two comedy actor awards. That means this year the entire comedy actor and actress slate is open for performers who did not win last year.

“It logically follows if last year you were saying goodbye, this year you are saying hello,” Mr. Leverence said.

Categories without a previous winner this time out are not limited solely to actors in comedy series. The supporting actor and supporting actress in a drama Emmys went to “The Sopranos,” as did statuettes for best writing in a drama and best drama series.

“It’s rare we’re seeing this kind of housecleaning,” said Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys” and webmaster of Goldderby.com, which handicaps show business awards ceremonies. “It will be dramatic.”

The new faces will also trickle down into the nominations. In the comedy actor category, for example, three of last year’s nominees-“Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer, “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Larry David and the late John Ritter of “8 Simple Rules” aren’t eligible this year. Three new nominees will be needed for both the actress in a comedy and supporting actress in a comedy categories. And in the comedy directing and drama writing categories, four of the five spots will have to be filled with nominees from shows not considered last year.

“It’s a good year for the Emmys that it is getting all this new fresh blood in there,” Mr. O’Neil said.

Changes Coming

Following its traditional schedule, the ceremony will take place from 5-8 p.m. (PT), airing live on the East Coast on CBS and on tape delay in the West at 8 p.m. Nominating ballots are mailed and posted on the ATAS Web site this week, and the postmark deadline for completed ballots to the accounting firm Ernst & Young is June 22. Nominees are scheduled to be announced July 14 at a 5:30 a.m. (PT) press conference from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre at the Academy’s North Hollywood, Calif., headquarters.

While the number of categories awarded during the telecast will be the same this year, ATAS announced in April it would forgo spontaneous speeches in all writing, directing and some TV movie, miniseries and variety series categories in favor of taped acceptance statements. As the announced winner walks up to the stage, a split screen will show the acceptance speech, so as the winner receives the Emmy the show can move on to the next category.

“The consolidation of the walk to the stage and the Emmy speech is the broad-stroke revision of these awards,” Mr. Leverence said, noting that all the nominees in the affected categories will tape acceptance messages, and the yet-to-be-named telecast director will plug in the winner’s speech once the name or names have been announced.

The pre-taped strategy was a compromise crafted between the writers and directors guilds and ATAS after the academy proposed removing a number of categories from the telecast, a move the guilds strongly opposed. The compromise is likely to serve no one well, Mr. O’Neil said.

“Everyone is going along with it because it’s a compromise that saves face,” he said, noting that the broadcast networks, which underwrite the telecast, have also resented the domination of the cable networks in the miniseries and TV movie categories, which prompted a discussion of moving those acceptances to the Creative Arts ceremony as well. Mr. O’Neil compared the changes to the Motion Picture Academy’s time-saving changes to the Oscar ceremony this year, which included some awards being presented from the audience.

“This is the same kind of folly we saw at the Oscars, where the producers came up with these numbskull alternatives for non-celebrities,” Mr. O’Neil said. “They looked ridiculous. It was demeaning and showed no importance for that moment, which is to honor the show business tradition.”

Mr. O’Neil said he doesn’t expect the changes scheduled for this year to become Emmy tradition.

“It’s permissible as a one-year experiment that is certain to fail,” he said.