Deadline TV contributor Ray Richmond files this urgent report:
UPDATE 7 PM: Deadline has just learned that a new deal to telecast the Primetime Emmy Awards is imminent and that Fox will host without any radical changes to the show. This is the reason for Wednesday night’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences calling an emergency meeting of its Board of Governors at 7 PM. Sources also tell Deadline that ATAS lawyers are assuring the Writers and Directors Guilds staff that the Academy’s waiver agreements for free clips contractually in place with the WGA and DGA which expired with the last Emmys will be renewed and stay essentially the same. This means that ATAS won’t dare to even try to knock the writers’ and directors’ categories off the primetime Emmy show or else they’d have to pay through the nose for clips. Everyone in the TV community can breathe a sigh of relief…
6:30 PM: The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors has called an emergency meeting for 7 PM Wednesday. Sources tell me the confab is to resolve any remaining issues standing in the way of a new deal to telecast the Primetime Emmy Awards after nearly 9 months of protracted negotiations. The TV community’s patience is wearing thin for a new agreement to be finalized by ATAS and its chief negotiator, powerful showbiz lawyer Kenny Ziffren who did the last bargaining, and presented to the Academy board for approval. After all, it’s just 4½ months before the 63rd Primetime Emmys ceremony airs live on September 18th from Nokia Theatre, yet the kudosfest still remains an event in search of a television home. So what are the problems?
— Problem #1: The lack of a competitive cable network player stepping up to host the Emmys similar to HBO’s $10 million-a-year offer from 8 years ago. That wild card drove up initial lowball offers from the networks in the $3.5 million to $4.5 million range. HBO is said not to want to be a bidder this time, nor apparently TBS which a source confirmed to me had its own bid 8 years ago to beat any other offer by $1 million. So what prevents the TV Academy giving exclusive broadcast rights to a single network in the same way that the movie academy does to ABC? Only the inevitable outcry from the other networks. Because the Emmycast is still prestigious, and very much a marketing opportunity for fall shows, and still annually pulls in a tidy profit in the low 8-figures, as a network source confirmed to me. But as one insider close to the negotiations believes, “The longer they wait to get the deal done, the greater the likelihood of a fire sale.”
— Problem #2: I’ve learned that the deal on the table pretty much mirrors the most recent 8-year “wheel” deal that expired last August with broadcast networks NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox taking turns hosting the show on a rotating basis and paying the TV Academy $7.5 million annually in rights fees. If nothing changes, then it’s Fox’s turn to carry the Emmys this September. But while the Academy is more than happy to keep the status quo, the networks aren’t. Stagnant ratings and the ATAS requirement that the primetime show must hand out 27 trophies in three hours isn’t sitting well anymore. As a source tied to the negotiations tells me: “The networks want to make it a faster-moving, more youth-skew show, which means taking out categories and adding entertainment elements more like the Grammys. They’re also sick and tired of hosting a show that annually turns into a big promotion of cable.” Last year’s Emmy telecast attracted 13.5 million viewers and a 4.1 rating in adults 18-49 on NBC (matching the 2009 numbers). By contrast, the Grammys earlier this year pulled in 26.7 million viewers, its biggest audience since 2001.
— Problem #3: But what categories do you cut? If the ATAS Board of Directors had its way, they’d buckle to the networks and reduce the primetime telecast by a third, to 18 categories. The Academy this year deep-sixed the Outstanding Miniseries stand-alone category and folded it into top Made-For-TV Movie, to the great consternation of those TVmakers. That, however, is seen as a Band-Aid at best on what needs to be a show re-cast. Right now, insiders report that the chief battleground is in the writing and directing and longform categories which both the networks and ATAS would like to delete from primetime. “But that remains unlikely, because the Writers Guild and Directors Guild never would allow it,” believes one former member of the board.
— Problem #4: Let’s say the TV Academy did it anyway and moved the writing and directing honors for drama series, comedy series and movie/miniseries to the week-before Creative Arts Emmy ceremony. In the previous 8-year pact, that was forbidden or else the Guilds wouldn’t waive any rights fees for clips. But if the decision was made, “then the Academy would be looking at having to cut a check for maybe $750,000 or $1 million to the Guilds for the use of clips,” the insider tells me. “Depending on how high the rights fee is, they still might see that as an equitable solution.”
— Problem #5: Past is prologue. The TV Academy has learned the hard way that whenever it has tried to screw with the guilds, a firestorm breaks out. That became clear 2 years ago when a so-called “time shifting” plan to pre-tape 8 categories – two each for writing, acting, producing and directing – sparked a very vocal protest from dozens of TV showrunners as well as the guilds. Recalled one ATAS governor: “What the guilds basically said was, ‘If you proceed with this, we are going to make you pay, and make you pay through the nose, for any and all clips you plan to use on your little show.” Which is why the TV Academy’s awards SVP John Leverence told me last week that he doesn’t expect big changes in the Primetime Emmys category line-up for the primary ceremony. “Those for writing and directing are legacy categories that have been with us for many years,” he reassures. “They’re marquee categories that help the audience at home ascertain a certain field of work or body of work that’s covered and recognized with Emmys.”
— Problem #6: Were negotiations with the broadcast networks to fall apart, one insider tells me there’s been talk to either switch the Primetime Emmys to a dinner ceremony in New York similar to those for the News Emmys and Sports Emmys, or to split the entertainment event into two and honor the broadcast networks and cable channels on separate nights. That would recall the days of the CableACE Awards, which honored cable programming from 1978 to 1997 as a forerunner to cable’s inclusion in the modern Emmys. So then it’s Back To The Future.