Emmy Ready for Its Close-Up

With 2010 awards over, talk turns to new TV deal and new competitor

Emmys 2010: Complete Coverage from B&C

The 2010 Emmys have come and gone, but
things will hardly be quiet for long. From
a new TV deal that needs to be sorted
out to a new competitor popping up, Emmy will
be front and center long before next September.
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman/
CEO John Shaffner
spoke with B&C programming
editor Marisa Guthrie about this year's
show and what lies ahead. Selected highlights of
their conversation follow.

The Emmy telecast held pretty steady year-to-year, despite being on in the doldrums of
summer. Are you happy with the ratings?

Yes, we're just coasting on a delightful high from
a well-received Emmy telecast, both by the home
audience and the audience in the room, and our
hold in rating [4.1 in adults 18-49, 13.5 million
total viewers].

Did you expect the live airing on the West
Coast to have more of a positive
impact on the ratings than
it apparently did?

Everyone was very nervous about
the idea that if someone hadn't
seen all of it and then they'd seen
the end of it, why would they stay
to see the beginning? If you came
in at 6 o' clock, maybe you wanted
to stay through and see how
the show opened. I have nothing
to back this theory up...
It's a challenge. Because it's a television
community event with the
participation of the four major
networks here, and let's face it,
we were disheartened when NBC
made the deal with football. But
that's business, they had to do
that. That did us in.

Wouldn't the Emmys benefit from having one
home, like the Oscars does with ABC?

We all know that perhaps that would benefit us. But at
the same time, we also feel that we are the child with
shared custody. It's a very difficult thing to move into
one house when you love them all equally. And so it's a
good idea to keep this a healthy good thing for everybody.
So my goal is to keep everybody understanding
that: group- think here, this is the family reunion.

Does it matter whether the Emmys stays on broadcast
or goes to a basic cable network?

I personally would like the Emmys to reach as large an
audience as it can possibly get to. To be honest with you,
broadcast television is still the greatest way to accrue the
largest audience. So it doesn't make sense to not want the largest audience that you can get.
So my number-one goal is to make
sure the broadcast is someplace that
we can accrue the largest audience.

It's interesting that in 2002, the
last time the telecast was up for
bid, HBO made a run at it. Now
they really don't need to.

At the time, I think the personalities involved had something
to do with it. [Former HBO President] Chris Albrecht
served on the board of the Academy and he was a fan of
our work and he just wanted the Academy to succeed. The
business models across the board have changed for everybody.
It's just a matter of how we in the television community
figure out the best way to support the cost of
doing the contest. Contests aren't cheap.

What about the Paley Center's attempts to
mount their own television awards show?

We don't know anything about it. They've announced
they're going to do it. But they're challenged
by, how do they run a contest? How do
they pay for a contest? The license fee definitely
goes a long way towards it for us, but we have
some other revenue streams that we've worked
on over the years that have helped us.

And the current license fee is more than
$7 million.

Yes, it's at $7.5 million. And this is something that
gets very lost in the conversation out of that
fund there's a percentage of it that goes directly
to support the National Academy, to the tune of
more than $1 million. This license fee supports the
National Academy and their good works, which
reaches into all of daytime and news and sports.
And likewise another chunk of it is earmarked to
go directly into our foundation fund, which then
takes care of our College Television Awards and
the internship program and of course our archive
of American television. So it sounds like a big
number, and then you start subtracting.

The Paley Center has some industry heavyweights
on their board. Is there room for another
TV awards show?

I think there is, but not at the same time of the year, and
they've announced that they want to try to do something
in May. So then my immediate question is, what is your
eligibility period? Is it going to be a January-to-January
contest? I don't know how they will build the contest,
how it will be structured, etc., to meet a May time zone.

Why do you think the Paley Center is doing this?
I think they would like to get more recognition because
they do good work. And they're looking for a revenue
stream. But at the same time, I think they're looking for a
way to be a little more populist than we might be. And that
would be their major distinction. I know the names that are
behind it are very much engaged in populist television.

Does the
network/cable divide make any difference anymore?

The challenge that
all the businesses face today is the corporate structure has connected the dots
between the networks and their sister organizations under the same corporate
umbrella in terms of cable channels. So what's good for the goose is good for
the gander in some respects. I think the biggest challenge for me personally to
get my head around, and I will no doubt be criticized for saying something like
this, but I think the significant difference is in subscription television
because the viewer has to make the choice to spend a fair amount more money
every month to access it. We know that a large percent of the audience buys
cable or satellite. They want to opportunity to have more channels that just
come over the air. So that's a decision that most Americans have made. But the
number of Americans who have made the decision to buy the ticket to the special
movies and the projects that Showtime and HBO and now Starz offer is a
different kind of decision. There has to be a level of affluence in that home.
There has to be a conscious choice to take resources and spend it on the
product, which delivers ultimately a different kind of audience to those
products. And that is the part I can't get my head around all the time. And let
me tell you, I'm a huge fan of their work and having gone to Carnegie Mellon
where our motto across the stage is our heart is in the work, I'm very much
about the work. But as a business model and how we embrace it all, it's
challenging to have broadcast and basic cable and then to understand about this
very specialized work that is delivered because the audience is willing to pay
more money.

And yet HBO once
again swept the miniseries and made-for-TV movie categories.

They usually do. And
as I said the heart is in the work. They're dedicated, so dedicated to
producing this kind of work. The movies of the week in particular this year,
and pretty consistently in the last several years, are all extremely worthy
films. These are the kind of films that we used to go to the movies to see.
Yes, the art houses are continuing. But when you have the support of HBO and
Showtime behind projects like Temple
and You Don't Know Jack,
these are the kind of films that are so stand alone special and they are done
with such quality and dedication and art. It's like OMG, I remember going to
theater and seeing movies like this. But the motion picture business has a much
harder time addressing subjects like this in theatrical distribution. So in a
way, this is a tremendous asset to our culture. But the issue is then once we
noted how great they are on the Emmys, how do we make Temple Grandin more widely available to more of the audience.

What do you think of Modern Family winning best comedy?
It's a comedy. I
think all the programs were wonderful. But I think Modern Family is a fresh take. It's a little bit of many
family comedies that have evolved over the years but they put it all into one.
It's a little bit of Danny Thomas. It's a little bit of Dick Van Dyke. So I was
delighted. We're really challenged trying to keep it down two categories of
comedy and drama. But there's no reason to start another category if there
isn't enough material to create a contest?

You mean a dramedy

Yes, why would you do
another category if you only have four things that you can categorize as a

So that brings me to
Edie Falco. She's won for comedy. And while
Nurse Jackie is a half
hour show, it's not really a comedy.

Let's face it we all
appreciate and understand that Edie Falco is one of the great artists of our
time and she's such a superb actress that even though here role isn't overtly
comical, the ability that she brings to playing that particular character I
think superseded the question of is it comedic or not. You watch her face when
she is performing and she is completely absorbing. She was respected for the
artist she is. Should she be Lucille Ball and win the award - who was pretty
absorbing to look at too - kind of was set aside and the issue really became,
look she's in the category and look at her she's brilliant. For what she had to
do she succeeded so remarkably even though it isn't overt comedy. It's a very,
very difficult role.

Since you work with
Conan O'Brien I have to ask you what you think of Jimmy Fallon's O'Brien
reference in his opening monologue?

We've worn the joke
out now. It needed to be referenced and Conan was a good sport about it. Now we
can move on.