Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Much Ado About Nothing Emmy Non-Change

Well, that wound up being a pointless exercise. The TV Academy reversed course Wednesday, bowing to pressure from the various Guilds and reinstating the traditional plan to air all 28 Primetime Emmy Awards categories live during the ceremony.

The Emmycast was always going to air all 28 awards... but in an experiment, producers planned to pre-tape eight of them beforehand -- cutting out useless seconds of the winner walking up on stage and the music playing them off.

But the Academy handled the change just about as poorly as possible, never quite explaining it to the masses -- and introducing the whole idea so late in the process that it caught everyone off guard.

Of course, the idea of just time-shifting eight categories seemed kind of random... and I'm not so sure the plan to use that freed-up time was compelling enough. If the Academy really wants to shake things up, they need to time-shift the entire ceremony, and cut it down to two hours. Here's what I wrote the other day in Variety, before the time-shifting plan was scrapped:
Now that the TV Academy has stirred the pot by announcing plans to "time-shift" eight awards out of the live Emmycast, the next step is obvious.

Go ahead and time-shift the whole damn broadcast.

Emmys producer Don Mischer and TV Academy CEO John Shaffner note that they can shave as much as a minute and a half off each of the eight categories by pre-taping them and dropping them in midtelecast.

Those slimmed-down categories for next month's kudocast will be stripped of lengthy shots of winners getting to the stage, while dull shout-outs to lawyers and agents will also land on the cutting room floor.

That could save as much as 12 minutes, which Mischer says will now be devoted toward more entertainment -- including lengthier clips of nominated programs.

But that still means viewers will be forced to still sit through a three-hour Emmy show. So: Mission not accomplished.

Mischer, Shaffner and this year's Emmy network CBS are on to something: But they're not going far enough.

If they truly want to produce a watchable, fast-paced awards show for this remote-zapping, TiVo-surfing, short-attention-span era, they need to apply this formula to all 300 (only a slight exaggeration) or so categories passed out on Emmy night.

This needs to be a tape-delayed award show.

Mischer and Shaffner themselves told reporters last week that viewers shouldn't care whether those eight time-shifted awards aren't live. The entire Emmycast isn't shown live on the West Coast, after all. And viewers are now used to watching their programs "almost live" -- TiVoing live events like "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars" and watching them later in the evening.

It's doubtful there would be much outcry from the viewing public if they learned the Emmys would be taped earlier in the day, stripped down, and presented as a fast-paced two-hour event.

Then there's the issue of the guilds. Right now, the WGA and DGA are fuming over the fact that some of their members may be marginalized by the selection of awards to be time-shifted. But if the entire show is time-shifted, then it's a level playing field, and no one has true reason to feel slighted.

Considering this is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise industry, Emmy attendees might even appreciate an earlier start time.

Gather the nominees and audience and start the show at noon Pacific time. Get them out by 4 p.m., and on to an early dinner Governor's Ball. Various entities can then hold their cocktail parties at 6 p.m., and everyone's safe and home by 8 p.m. -- in time to watch an entertaining, fast-paced, quick Emmycast.

Entertaining? Fast-paced? Two hours? If the TV Academy isn't careful, they might actually get people interested once again in the Emmys.

Can the Emmys be saved? Or is it destined to become little more than a banquet televised on a cable network?

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