Emmy Ready for Its Close-Up

With 2010 awards over, talk turns to new TV deal and new competitor
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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 Grandin 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 category?
Yes, why would you do another category if you only have four things that you can categorize as a dramedy?

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.

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