Special Report: Emmy Rules Tweaks Pay Off

Changes to keep up with TV, distinguish reality from non-fiction reflected in noms

RELATED: Four Things You Should Know About the 2010 Primetime Emmys

This year, the Academy of Television
Arts & Sciences (ATAS) adjusted
rules in its Emmy competition to more
specifi cally define what a reality show is versus
what a non-fiction show is, and by the looks of
the competitions among nominees for the genre,
the new rules are making the desired impact.

While the outstanding reality-competition
program and outstanding non-fiction series
have been separate since 2003, this year any
non-fiction series with a “reality TV” element of
any kind has been kicked immediately to the
reality category. The result is non-fiction and
reality awards categories that, for the most part,
feel reflective of today’s TV environment.

American Idol
is competing against its realitycompetition
comrades—ABC’s Dancing With the
, CBS’ Amazing Race, CBS’ Survivor, Bravo’s
Top Chef and Lifetime’s Project Runway. American
is facing off against its fact-based
peers—PBS’ American Experience and National
, Discovery’s Life and Deadliest Catch, and
IFC’s Monty Python: Almost the Truth.

As reality television has become an important
genre of its own over the past 10 years, adjusting
the awards accordingly has been important
to ATAS. Prior to the arrival of reality series, what
constituted a non-fiction series was clear-cut.
When CBS premiered Survivor in 2000, the academy
didn’t quite know what to do with it, so in
2001 it competed in category called Outstanding
Nonfi ction Program-Special Class, which it won.
It was up against Bands on the Run, Eco-Challenge:
Borneo, Junkyard Wars
and Road Rules. For those
first two or three years of reality programs, the
academy had a tough time distinguishing between
nonfiction programs and reality, and the
category titles were confusing to viewers.

A separate category for reality programs was
created in 2003 called Outstanding Reality-
Competition Program, and Survivor, Amazing
and American Idol all were nominated in
that category. However, ATAS still didn’t know
quite what to do with non-scripted, non-fiction
shows, so it also included two shows in the category
that felt random: NBC’s Bob Hope tribute, 100 Years of Hope and Humor; and CBS’s AFI’s
100 Years...100 Passions: America’s Greatest Love
. Amazing Race won this category that year
(and every year thereafter), but the category felt

Clearer divisions

Since then, ATAS has worked to make clear divisions
between reality programs, reality-competition
programs, non-fiction programs and nonfiction specials so that the categories are clear
and programs are competing against their peers.
Still, it’s a challenge because ATAS can’t support
hundreds of categories, due to time and money
constraints, so some categories encompass a
broader range of programming than others.

Non-fiction specials are similarly broken out,
remaining separate from made-for-TV movies or
miniseries, even if some movies or minis, like
HBO’s The Pacific, Lifetime’s Georgia O’Keeffe or
HBO’s Temple Grandin, are fact-based.

Non-fiction specials cover a lot of ground,
ranging from Epix HD’s Believe: The Eddie Izzard
, a documentary about the British comic’s
life, to documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s take on
20 years of Fox’s The Simpsons and a retrospective
of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the 2000s.

The category also includes some heavy hitters
from the film world: HBO’s documentary on the
2008 election of Barack Obama, produced by
actor Edward Norton and writer Stuart Blumberg
(The Kids Are All Right), will face off against
Clint Eastwood’s biography of American lyricist,
singer and songwriter Johnny Mercer, which
aired on TCM.

And Sheila Nevins, HBO’s president of documentary
and family programming, nabbed her
56th Emmy nomination for HBO’s production
of Teddy: In His Own Words, about the late Massachusetts
senator Ted Kennedy. Nevins, a veteran
producer, has won more Emmys than any
other person, with 21.

Non-fiction remains lumped in with reality
in some of the technical categories, such as
directing, sound editing and sound mixing, so
The Amazing Race competes against shows such
as Life and National Parks in those. In general,
those categories are less divided out, so comedies
and dramas also compete against each
other in those categories.

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