Don Mischer must be some kind of an evil genius.
Oh sure, plenty of people have proven proficient at inspiring anger in the TV industry rank-and-file, what with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ long and colorful history of Emmy alienation.
But no one has been able to piss everyone off with such inclusive vigor and blinding rage as has this year’s Emmy executive producer. Had he set out to sabotage the ceremony on purpose, Mischer really could not have succeeded more resoundingly.
His proposal last week to “downsize” and “timeshift” eight of the “lesser” (my interpretation) categories at the Sept. 20 show — handing the trophies out before the telecast starts and then editing the acceptance speeches into bite-size morsels — has sparked the closest thing to outright mutiny this event has ever witnessed.
Yet you also have to gaze upon the upside. If this producer thing doesn’t work out for Mischer, he’s certain to have a glorious future in guild contract negotiation. The lightning speed and unbreakable solidarity with which he’s united writers, directors and producers toward a common goal (unfortunately, his lynching) has been monumental to behold.
The saddest part about this particular tempest is how seriously moronic it is, and how easily solved it could be, with a thimbleful of self-awareness.
And I’m not just talking about Mischer, who is merely doing the bidding for a group that somehow continues to believe it’s 1981, the broadcast networks still run the show, and the unbridled Emmy viewership erosion is nothing that a little razzmatazz can’t reverse.
Earth to TV Academy: Wrong. This ship has sailed. Tinkering with the formula looks more and more like not just shuffling the Titanic deck chairs but working to decorate them in the wake of striking the iceberg of apathy.
The real problem here is one that’s fairly simple to fix once it’s acknowledged. It’s far less about questioning why the emperor has no ratings than analyzing why he cares.
When Mischer told TV critics on Monday at their semiannual gathering in Pasadena, “We are trying to keep the Emmys alive as a major television event,” the question we should have is, “Um, why?”
The short answer is that it’s because the more people who watch it, the more money that’s brought in to the network coffers to cover rights fees.
So here are another few “whys”: Why should the success of a ceremony honoring television be contingent on ratings numbers?
And why is it seen as just another cash generator? This isn’t a naive question but a practical one. Because once you take having to ratchet up the sizzle out of the equation and instead risk using it as a loss leader/promo platform for the telecasting network, it removes the desperate need to Twitter-ize the event.
The TV Academy’s board of directors has been reticent to allow HBO to buy in to the Emmycast rotation out of an unfounded fear that fewer people will watch the show and it will consequently lose its longtime prominence and luster.
But that’s already happened with the numbers-goosing moves of padding the high-profile categories with more nominees and idiotically adding stuff like “Outstanding Reality Host” to the mix.
It’s clear that the Emmy folk want it both ways. But it doesn’t work that way. Awards shows still need to be about awards and the people who win them. Otherwise, you might as well just fling the statues by catapult to the victors as they sit in the audience.
I have a hard time believing that the 45 seconds you gain from cutting out the “boring parts” of winners’ walk-and-talk is going to do much to help stave off any creeping obsolescence while at the same time “adding more content,” in Mischer’s words.
And we are to insinuate from this…what? That time spent with the actual winners during an awards show is no longer considered content? Interesting. I mean, it may not be as riveting as another clip-reel tribute to “The Titans of Craft Services,” but haven’t the victorious writers and directors earned the right to bore the crap out of us?
Again, the focus from the academy perspective simply needs to do a 180 if it doesn’t want to risk a full-on boycott of its participants. Make it about the people in Nokia’s house, instead of Nielsen’s house, and then vow to accept the things you cannot change.
If that doesn’t work for CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, then let HBO — which doesn’t have to care as much about ratings — have its shot.
(Ray Richmond blogs at www.manbitestinseltown.com.)