Spurred by new leadership and financial considerations, the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences may be on their way to ending a 25-year-old separation.
A full-scale merger of NATAS and ATAS may be a way off, but the new heads of the two academies have started a discussion and will be meeting for the first time this week in Los Angeles.
The discussions come just two months after the death of longtime NATAS President John Cannon, who headed the East Coast branch from 1976 until last June and was considered a major factor in keeping the two sides separate for so long.
The break-up came in 1976 after Hollywood TV producers and writers argued that only members working in their part of the industry should vote on the prime time Emmys, not East Coast members who were distant.
ATAS Chairman Meryl Marshall-Daniels's four-year run is up this October, and members just elected TV producer/writer Bryce Zabel to take her place. Marshall-Daniels, a longtime academy member who didn't see eye-to-eye with NATAS' Cannon, recently made efforts to bring the two factions together again.
The meeting also occurs as both sides prepare to open discussions with the Big Four broadcast networks on new TV packages for both the daytime and prime time Emmys.
When the two divisions split, NATAS took control of the daytime awards, along with the sports, documentary and news Emmys.
But ATAS got the prime time awards, the most valuable of all the TV awards.
Sources say the prime time Emmys bring in more than $20 million each year in license fees and advertising revenue, while the daytime Emmys garner about $7 million. Sports, news and documentary awards are no longer televised.
Both academies are said to be looking for richer contracts from the Big Four networks; some believe a unified academy could attract more money.
Stanley Hubbard, the acting chairman of NATAS is searching for Cannon's replacement, but he's traveling to Los Angeles this week and is scheduled to meet with Zabel and ATAS President Jim Chabin.
He downplays the significance of the Los Angeles meeting but agrees that it could be a start of better things to come. Hubbard says that the separation is "illogical."
"Separated parents aren't always the best thing for a child, and I'm not sure that two organizations are always the best thing in the long run for the Emmy."
Zabel says, "We don't have an agenda other than to get to know each other. I don't feel bolted to the past in any case because I wasn't here when the so-called divorce happened and, for me, this is not personal."