Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy coverage:
It’s an anxious annual guessing game – the vetting of producers for the outstanding series Primetime Emmy Award nominees. Now it’s nearly complete inside the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences, with those who are ruled ineligible notified sometime this week. The Academy has aggressively cracked down on the producer lists submitted by nominated series contenders since about 2000, with the joint goals of weeding out the undeserving and capping the producing team’s size. Though there appears to have been a certain moderating of its stance by the Academy over the past couple of years.
Previously, the caps on the number of individual producers who can be nominated for a comedy series (11) and drama series (10) were viewed throughout the industry as arbitrary and punitive. This year, the program producer maximums are based, according to the 2010 Primetime Emmy Rules and Procedures, on “the average team size of eligible producers in the category over a prior five-year period.” But that still seems too random.
A catalyst in diminishing the TV Academy’s producer-vetting zeal can be traced to 2007 when 30 Rock writer/co-executive producers David Finkel and Brett Baer, and The Office writer-producer-costar Mindy Kaling, were bounced from the producer rosters for Emmy eligibility in the comedy category. Vigorous appeals resulted in the reinstatement of all three that year. But accusations of an Emmy bias against writer-producers underscored the difficulty that dogs the Academy when assessing the duties of hybrids in particular.
At the time, John Leverence, the TV Academy’s SVP of awards, said that the initial exclusion of Kaling could be traced to “a situation in which [her duties] in three separate categories gave the committee pause. A red flag went up.” But the industry-wide animosity in 2007 appeared to spur something of a reevaluation, Leverence acknowledged to me recently. “The fact writer-producers wear dual hats on a series has made determining their eligibility particularly difficult,” he said. “When you’ve got someone with hybrid duties, their function on a show tends to require greater clarification. And it was decided that further discussions would be helpful.”
For instance, the TV Academy received angry calls from some Emmy-eligible writers and producers a few years ago after an email went out that the Producers Guild Of America was going to be working with the TV Academy to determine who should be considered a producer in the Best Show category. Along with this notification was included the PGA’s “Rules and Procedures”. Here’s why one supervising producer complained: “By PGA standards, approving call sheets, series amort budgets, and production reports are all crucial parts of being a producer. However, it says, ‘contributions to the story and script are considered duties discharged as a writer, and shall not be counted towards the individuals producorial duties if the individual receives writing credit.’ So, according to the PGA, when a co-executive producer/writer goes to a wardrobe meeting, casting session, or on set during production, that’s not producing. Never mind that for a non-writing producer to attend the same meeting… Well, yeah, then that’s what they consider producing. Which is fine if they want to stick with their own awards. But their standards absolutely shouldn’t be applied to the Emmys.
“Nowhere in the PGA guidelines does it mention breaking stories, developing character arcs or rewriting scripts as part of what goes on when you produce a television series. The day-in, day-out work of what TV writers do, what keeps us up late, away from our families, and what, in many cases, makes TV so damn good, doesn’t matter to the PGA. Writers flock to TV because TV empowers writers. We call the shots on what a show is, who’s in it, and what the final product is. Obviously this applies to showrunners, but it also applies to the producer-ing writers who support those showrunners.”
The TV Academy responded to the complaints with assurances that it would use the PGA as an “information gathering resource only”.
Now, the Academy’s 2010 program award producer eligibility guidelines decree that in comedy and drama series, “full time executive producers who have final creative authority over the writing process on at least 50% of the eligible episodes and writer-producers who perform verifiable producing services on multiple episodes may be eligible.”
Leverence stresses that, over the past year, there has been a “generalized embrace” from the Academy of the writer-producer’s role with regard to comedy and drama series in particular. The dialogue that’s been conducted between ATAS members and showrunners over the past numbers of years “has finally resulted in white smoke coming up at the PGA and WGA and the Academy during the last year. And it points to the fact there’s an understanding of the general eligibility of writer-producers.”
Does that mean there won’t be any writer-producers on the ineligible list this week? “I can’t say that for certain,” Leverence concedes, “but I can tell you there is a general embrace that’s been agreed upon and established, in a way that hadn’t been clarified for writer-producers previously.”