The Television Academy announced Friday rules changes affecting the categories and voting process for the Primetime Emmy Awards. Among the most dramatic adjustments are an increase of the number of nominees for the best comedy and drama series categories to seven each; the designation of 30-minute shows as comedies and 60-minute shows as dramas; and the expansion of the pools of final-round voters from small “blue ribbon” committees to all members of a category’s peer group who attest to watching the nominated shows and don’t have a conflict of interest.
The Academy also refined its rules for the miniseries categories, reclassifying them as limited series, and made adjustments to the guest-actor and variety categories.
Bruce Rosenblum, chairman and CEO of the Television Academy and president of Legendary Television and Digital Media, spoke with B&C about the changes and other issues facing the academy.
What prompted these changes?
Our organization thinks it’s really necessary every handful of years to take a look at all of our rules and evaluate if they need to be modified. Our industry is certainly changing around us on a daily basis, and one of the key roles for an Academy like ours is to recognize creative excellence. We need to make sure that the process and the rules by which we recognize that excellence are fair and are in response to a changing landscape. I think our board did a terrific job of addressing a handful of issues that had some gray areas around them and making some changes to the voting procedures in the second round.
What was the process for changing the rules and who were the key players in the conversation?
We formed an industry committee that was made up of senior executives from networks and studios. That committee wrestled with the issues that you ultimately saw resolved and proposed a series of rules changes and modifications to the board. There was a healthy discussion around all of them. They were tweaked and modified as the board saw appropriate, and as recently as last night we voted and approved everything.
The new rules designate 30-minute shows as comedies and hour-long shows as dramas. If a producer wants to submit a show in an alternative category, what would they need to do to make their case?
What we have done is formalize the process for evaluating which category a show should be in. If a producer or network or studio chooses to enter a 60-minute series as a comedy or a 30-minute series as a drama, they’ll identify that on the application. We will identify a nine-member industry panel. The industry panel will be made up of five executives that the chair of the Academy appoints and four members that the board of governors appoints. The panel will be asked to watch the programming and evaluate if the show is predominately a comedy or predominately a drama, and if at least six of the nine members of the committee determine that, yes, this 60-minute show is a comedy or, yes, this 30-minute show is a drama, that program will then be eligible in that category. It’s a fairly straightforward process.
Will hour-long shows that had previously competed as comedies be grandfathered in?
So it’s a clean slate?
There’s been a large number of hour-long shows that competed in the comedy categories in recent years. What kind of feedback have you received from people in the community thus far to these changes?
I wouldn’t characterize it is a large number. It’s a handful over the past decade or so. There were a lot of industry executives involved in the design of this, as well as the 50-plus members of our board of governors. The feedback I’ve had today is, “Thank you for the clarification. Thank you for a structure that does not automatically limit a 60-minute show from being considered a comedy and vice versa. We look forward to seeing how the process works.”
Seth Meyers, during his monologue hosting last year’s ceremony, said, “We had comedies that made you laugh and comedies that made you cry, because they were dramas submitted as comedies.” He was giving voice to something that had been talked about a lot leading up to the show. How much was the conversation that led to these changes prompted by that discussion?
We were aware of that discussion. However, this has been an issue for more than just the past year. I believe [hourlong] Ally McBeal was in the comedy category more than 15 years ago. And it comes up every now and then. I believe our board handled this in a very prudent way.
With the expansion of the number of nominees in the series categories, were you concerned at all about diluting the value of a nomination?
It’s certainly a consideration. However, if you look at sheer number of original scripted series being produced by our members today as opposed to five or 10 years ago, there has been a meaningful increase. Our role is to recognize creative achievement. We felt it was absolutely important to expand the number of nominees, given how high the quality of our membership’s work is and how great the quantity is as well.
There weren’t a lot of people complaining about the voting process. There were people complaining about the number of nominees and what they perceived to be shows competing in the wrong categories.
The irony is that the change in the voting process is probably the most meaningful rules change that has been made and the one that has received the least amount of attention.
What will the effect of that change be?
We should see a significant increase in the number of members participating in the voting during the final round. The prior process of blue-ribbon panels in many ways limited the number of people who participated. Having invested a lot of money in our online voting system, we are now in a place where we can take advantage of technology, allow our members to view the material and vote online. We’re also hopeful that we will broaden the demographics of those who are participating in the final round voting.
Was the introduction of online voting last year done with an eye toward making this move?
The move toward online voting always had as its primary goal the expansion of the number of people participating in the voting process. Whether or not we were going to continue with the blue-ribbon panels was a discussion that arose following the move toward online voting. Yet having the online voting capability enabled us to make this change.
How will you ensure that the voters actually watch the show?
It is not dissimilar to how it’s worked the last many years with the blue-ribbon panels. The members watched the material in their homes and then had to attest that they had watched the applicable material. That part of the process doesn’t change. There will still be a need to attest that you’ve watched the material. There’s also a need to acknowledge that you don’t have a direct conflict with one of the nominees, meaning that if you worked on one of the shows, you’re not eligible to vote in that category.
Are there any safeguards to keep people from gaming the system, saying that they have watched something when they haven’t or that they don’t have a conflict of interest when they do?
We will spot-check the conflict issue. We’re working on processes to avoid the, to use your phrase, gaming the system, and to ensure that people actually watch the applicable material for that award.
Oscars are coming up this weekend. There’s been a huge amount of criticism of the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. It’s considered reflective of that academy’s makeup. Meanwhile, in television, diversity has been one of the biggest stories of this season. How diverse is your membership? And what are you doing to make sure that you have a diverse membership that reflects the industry and the country?
Unlike the motion-picture academy, which has a much more limited membership, we have over 19,000 members. We are actively pursuing membership outreach for each of our peer groups. However, the outreach varies peer group to peer group in its process and how rapidly we can successfully grow some of those peer groups. More than half of our members are below the line, which provides an opportunity for more healthy diversity. There’s a lot more that organizations like ours can do, and I’m optimistic that over the next handful of years we will continue that outreach and see the demographics of our organization become more diverse. We don’t have specific data based on our current membership information, but we’re working on that as well.
The Daytime Emmys last year were considered a fiasco. [The f-word-laden 2014 ceremony was not shown on television and its red-carpet online pre-show was mocked on Twitter.] Do you have any concern about the East Coast academy doing harm to the Emmy brand, and have you had any discussions about possibly stepping in and helping them where it appears that they’re having some trouble.
For the moment, NATAS has chosen to handle the Daytime Emmys on their own. We are obviously aware of how they have executed on that the last couple of years, and we’re keeping a careful eye on anything they may or may not do that could affect our brand and our image. But for the moment we are not part of that process and we look forward to seeing how they do with this year’s show.