A decision by the Television Academy to downsize eight awards on this year’s Emmy telecast this year is sparking protest from the Writers Guild.
The television academy’s board of governors voted Wednesday to "timeshift" some awards, mainly affecting TV writers — whose awards and acceptance speeches will be taped just prior to the telecast, then edited down and scattered throughout the show, leaving leave more air time to highlight popular shows that don’t get many awards.
But the move is fueling anger among writers, and also among Emmy voters at the much-nominated, but lesser-watched cable networks.
“This action of the board of governors is a clear violation of a longstanding agreement the Writers Guilds have with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences regarding their awards telecast,” read a WGA West statement issued Thursday.
Indeed, at this week’s Television Critics Association presentations, insiders have been waggishly calling the new rule the "f— Matt Weiner" rule. Weiner is the creator of the Emmy-winning, but ratings-challenged AMC show, "Mad Men."
For good reason. Virtually all of the categories targeted for removal are dominated by cable networks, including best movie or miniseries, which has been practically owned by HBO in recent years.
And the presentation of the new rules to the TV Academy — which included a graphic comparing “Mad Men’s” 1.3 million average episode viewership to the 18 million drawn by “CSI” — was viewed by cable networks as a shot across the bow.
“For a show that has always recognized the best in the television industry, it now seems to be increasingly focused on recognizing broadcast network television,” read an HBO statement.
“It would have been better if they’d at least given us a head’s up,” said an official close to cable network AMC, noting that struggling broadcast networks like CBS increasingly view the Emmys as “one big commercial” for cable shows, which have dominated the Emmy telecast in recent years. “We understand why they did this, but they could have at least talked to us about it.”
In choosing to go it alone while trying to make the Emmys more populist and solve a legitimate ratings problem — last year’s telecast attracted just 12.3 million viewers, the lowest number in the awards’ history — the TV Academy and Emmy producers seem to have only intensified a brewing rivalry between broadcasters and cable networks.
And they’ve been upsetting guilds like the WGA in the process.
Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), protested the move, saying Friday:
“The writers are the storytelling stars of television, and we are disappointed that the Academy chooses to diminish our members’ invaluable and essential contribution to the medium."
The Emmys put a statement on their website explaining the move as an attempt to make the broadcast — which has suffered declining ratings in recent years — more relevant.
"Posed with a telecast that could run over due to expanding the number of nominees in 10 key awards categories, and the desire of broadcast partner CBS, show producer Don Mischer and the Television Academy to up the entertainment quotient in this year’s program, the board voted to begin this year’s Awards ceremony early, presenting a group of awards categories prior to the 5 PM telecast start time," read the statement.
One writer complained to TheWrap that “it is all coming from CBS. They are very angry their one-hour shows are never nominated but get higher ratings than the ones that are. CBS wants as many cable awards as possible off the prime-time show.”
Of the writing categories tossed off the show, the writer said, “None of them has a CBS nomination except one.”
The rule-change flap began Wednesday, after Mischer — who’s again producing the Sept. 20 telecast for CBS – made the recommendation to the TV Academy. His hope was to free up around half an hour to interject new features highlighting broader-skewing network shows and events that attract viewers to the Emmys but are typically ignored by Academy voters.
Think “American Idol” and “CSI.”
One element under consideration is a live interactive viewer poll, a kind of People’s Choice Awards for the Emmys. Another is a segment in which audience members get to make videos talking about their favorite shows. And in another, a viewer wins a seat in the audience.
For his part, Mischer told reporters Thursday that affected categories would still get ample presentation time during the pre-show. “We’re not just going to cut to a shot of people standing up there and waving,” he said.
But choosing to push through the change without consulting guilds like the WGA, Mischer and the TV Academy clearly exacerbated overall tensions associated with the move.
Winship asked the academy to change their decision. "We ask that they reconsider the decision for this and future Emmy broadcasts,” he said.