Emmys’ Date Confusion

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was busy talking last week about the Emmy Awards telecast scheduled to air Sept. 18 on CBS, which is shaping up as one of the most interesting in years. It could well bring the show a much-needed rebound in ratings and increased public recognition for TV’s highest honors.

However, the academy is being tight-lipped about what will happen in fall 2006, when NBC is scheduled to carry the Emmys as part of a 10-year agreement with the four major networks to rotate coverage.

As it stands, the academy has a contract for the Emmys to air on a Sunday in September 2006 on NBC. Since that deal was signed, NBC has also paid big bucks to acquire rights to air professional football on Sundays. As a result, the Peacock Network appears to have a conflict. It has contracts to carry both the Emmys and NFL action on that same Sunday next September. (The academy has not yet set the date for that show, nor has the NFL set the schedule of games.)

So far, neither side has blinked by agreeing to shift things around. Both the academy and the NFL are standing by their signed-and-sealed contracts, according to sources. Both say they will consider ways around the problem but probably not until after this year’s Emmys show is history.

In a brief statement to TVWeek last week, NBC and the academy said they are “aware of the situation and together they are evaluating programming options.” An NFL spokesman said the parties will “cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The most likely outcome, according to academy sources, is that the Emmys will shift to another night, at least for that one time. The betting is that it will land on a Monday in 2006, which would allow NBC to hype the show during its Sunday football game. The problem is that the security issues and logistics of doing the show on a Monday, presumably once again at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, are more difficult on a weekday. Doing it on a weekday would also disrupt production on some shows.

None of this was discussed last week when the TV academy and CBS served lunch during the Television Critics Association tour in L.A. In addition to kicking off the hype for the 57th Annual Awards, the brief press conference (where no questions were taken from the floor) was intended to introduce TV veteran Ken Ehrlich, newly named executive producer of this year’s Emmys telecast. Academy and Emmy officials did answer questions from the press informally later, during lunch.

Mr. Ehrlich, whose numerous credits include the Grammys and multiple musical tribute shows and specials, returns to produce the Emmys at a time when the value of all awards shows is being questioned. Across the board, the Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards and others all saw viewership declines last year. (The granddaddy of them all, the Oscars, held its own, just barely.)

Some suggest that in the Bush era there is little taste, especially in the red states, for watching Hollywood’s annual orgy of self-congratulation. Others say there are just too many kudofests, and they fault the nominees for being too obscure (shown only on pay cable, for instance) or too rarefied, and of interest only to critics. For instance, last year’s darling, Fox’s “Arrested Development,” the surprise best comedy winner, proved again during the season that followed its win to be of only limited interest to the mass audience, even as critics still enthusiastically listed the offbeat comedy among their favorites.

Last week Mr. Ehrlich said he felt that this year’s crop of Emmy nominees is much more promising. He pointed out there are interesting races, among shows and individuals, in almost every category, often with a well-known veteran show going against a highly popular new program. The nominees also include intriguing new personalities, like Hugh Laurie of “House,” and likable veterans such as Ray Romano and Debra Messing. As TV academy President Dick Askin told the assembled TV critics, this year features “new faces, tight races.”

“At the root of the show,” said Mr. Ehrlich, “[the viewer] wants to know whether [the Emmy] is going to go to a program that has been around for eight or nine years or to a show like ‘Desperate Housewives’ that was among the best-rated this year.”

Mr. Ehrlich promised there would be more comedy on his show. Some of that will come from the choice of a host. Last year’s host, Garry Shandling, was perceived to have been off the air for too long to be current, even though his comedy was often quite good.

Mr. Ehrlich wisely prefers a single host to the multihost format employed two years ago. The comedy theme could also play along with one of this year’s big planned tributes, to the late Johnny Carson. He was not only influential as a late-night talk host but also set the standard for years as an award show host.

This year’s Emmy show also should have stronger promotion and distribution on CBS, which is riding high as the most-watched network. That means it has the most opportunities to promote the Emmys on its own air. It is also in CBS’s interest to push the show because the network has the most nominations among all broadcast networks. (It will be interesting to see how ABC in particular counterprograms against the Emmys, since many of its stars are likely to shine at the Shrine.)

After much debate, the TV academy has streamlined some aspects of the show. In some cases, the acceptance speeches will be in short videos, not live on stage. The academy did wisely avoid blowing off the movie and miniseries categories as some suggested; those categories are dominated by HBO and others on cable. The fact is this year’s nominations prove that even if the playing field is not level in terms of how much money a pay cable network spends on a movie or series versus how much over-the-air broadcasters can spend, it is the quality of the creative and the storytelling that ultimately matters most. For now, that is why broadcast is back.

As tough as the challenges are that Mr. Erlich faces this year, the 57th Emmys should be smooth sailing compared with what he went though the only other time he produced the show, in 1980. The 32nd Emmys show was the one boycotted by all the nominees except one (Powers Boothe), because it took place during a seven-week-long strike by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. At least this year the housewives, the comics, the actors, producers, directors and writers will show up.

As for next year, we just don’t know yet.