Awards-Show Chaos: Too Many Categories = Hurt Feelings

The Emmy category squeeze has already caused a few brouhahas — and don’t even mention the Grammys …

It’s simple: If you’re handing out 100 awards, they won’t all fit on your TV show.

And for organizations like the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, that can ruffle all kinds of feathers.

When 2010 Primetime Emmy nominations were announced in June, nominees were named in 98 separate categories. When the Emmys are handed out on Aug. 29, only 27 of those – less than a third – will be handed out. 

The other 71 awards will have been dispensed eight days earlier at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy show, which isn’t televised until several days after it takes place.

"It's frustrating, and we wish we could give out more awards on the primetime show," Alan Perris, the COO of the Television Academy, told theWrap. "But we just can't shove any more awards in there. It's chock full."

And it’s even worse at the Grammy Awards, which hands out statuettes in more than 100 categories — but presents only about a dozen of those categories on the performance-heavy show.

“It’s never an easy decision,” Neil Portnow, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, told theWrap, “and we certainly do hear from a lot of folks advocating for their own particular area.”

The list of nominees whose Emmy categories will be presented on the Creative Arts show includes Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Hamm, Beau Bridges, Ted Danson, John Lithgow, Christine Baranski,  Tina Fey, Jane Lynch, Sissy Spacek and Ann-Margret — all in the Guest Actor or Actress categories.

Hamm, Fey and Lynch are also nominated in primetime-show categories. Then there's Anne Hathaway (Outstanding Voice-Over Performance), Jeff Probst, Ryan Seacrest and Heidi Klum (Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program) and Oscar-winners Michael Giacchino (Outstanding Music Composition for a Series) and Randy Newman (Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics).

Even the president of the Academy, John Schaffner, has been shunted to the CAE as a nominee in two art direction categories. 

And the woman of the year, Betty White, is nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her turn hosting “Saturday Night Live” – again, a Creative Arts Emmy category.

The Emmy category squeeze has already caused a few brouhahas. Deon Cole, a writer on Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show,” whose nominations were among the most newsworthy of the year, tweeted his displeasure with the Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series category being left off the primetime telecast: "Someone with power has kicked us in the nuts again," he wrote.

Later he alluded to conspiracies involving NBC (which is televising the ceremony, and which gave “The Tonight Show” back to Jay Leno), then stopped complaining with this tweet: “for those that know, my tweets are being watched and read by greater powers so if i seem lame on here forgive me.”

2008 Emmy hostsMeanwhile, some involved in the category of Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program were disgruntled to find they’d been dropped from the primetime telecast after being there the past two years (and after its nominees had actually hosted the 2008 Emmys, right).

“Survivor” host Jeff Probst called the decision “disappointing news” in a Hollywood Reporter story, while Jen Bresnan, CBS’s executive vice president of exec alternative programming, added that it was "the latest slap in the face to the genre."

In fact, Alan Perris said, the list of Primetime Emmy categories is set under a 2002 contract signed by the Academy and the four networks that televise the show. The contract singles out 26 categories that must be presented every year; the Academy, he said, later added the Outstanding Reality – Competition Program category to the list, and then three years ago added the reality-host category as well.

But when the Academy governors voted a rarely-given humanitarian award to George Clooney, he said, there was no longer enough room for all 28 awards in three hours. (Unlike the Oscars and the Grammys, the Emmys does not typically run overtime.)

"The humanitarian award had to take the place of the host award, because that's the only one not contractually obligated to be on the show," he said.

As for the slight of Conan O’Brien, that’s a union agreement: Two years ago, the Television Academy reached an agreement with the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America that the writing and directing categories for the two Variety, Music or Comedy categories would alternate.

Last year, writers and directors of the Variety, Music or Comedy Series were featured on the primetime telecast; this year, it’ll be the Variety, Music or Comedy Special categories. (In previous years, a single writing category and a single directing category covered both types of programs.)

With both the Emmys and the Grammys facing the problem of dozens of categories and not enough time, “the same dilemmas arise on both shows,” says producer/director Ken Ehrlich, who has overseen four Emmy and 30 Grammy telecasts.

“In both cases, there are obvious rationales that say certain categories with on-air personalities are the ones that people want to see.”

The Television Academy's current contract with the four television networks, said Perris, runs out after this year's Emmys, and "anything's possible" when the a new deal is negotiated.

Asked if the Academy has been getting pressure to include different categories on the must-televise list in its new contract, he laughed.

"Yes," he said. "Especially from people who aren't on the show now."

Meanwhile, for those categories that just won’t fit on the air – 70 at the Emmys, more than 90 at the Grammys – there’s no choice but to mount a separate show. 

And in both cases, the academies in charge have moved in recent years to make the secondary events more fun, and more substantial. The Creative Arts Emmys, for instance, has evolved from a dinner dance to a bigger event utilizing hosts like Neil Patrick Harris, Kathy Griffin and Penn and Teller.

John LithgowAt the Grammys, meanwhile, the presentation takes place the afternoon of the televised ceremony; Neil Portnow says they've "raised the bar dramatically” on the so-called “pre-tel” over the last few years, moving it to a separate venue, adding hosts and performers, and making it a much more elaborate production that contrasts with a presentation that was, he says, “very short, very swift and not terribly respectful.”

But for nominees who want the respect of that primetime, big-show slot, the numbers crunch can be daunting — unless they go the route of Kathy Griffin, a two-time Emmy winner and current nominee for her show “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List.”

“I technically do not have tickets for the Primetime Emmys, because the category I’m in is in the week-before Creative Arts Emmys,” she said last week on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show.

“And so I am making an offer … I would like to be the first celebrity seat-filler for the Emmy Awards.”