Last night was truly a regal one at the Television Academy, which threw its 70th anniversary gala — an event that was three celebrations in one.
And NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt could not have said it better, exclaiming at the end of the night, “Long live broadcast television.”
Not only did several generations of TV stars show up for a “class photo” complete with Lassie — a moment one passerby beamed “was like stepping into a real television set” — but the evening also marked the opening of the Television Academy’s state-of-the-art 61K-plus-square-foot Saban Media Center at its North Hollywood campus. In addition, Big 4 networks NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox all received the Academy’s Hall of Fame Cornerstone award, a honor that’s been bestowed upon such legends as Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball, Norman Lear and Bob Newhart.
The theater at the TV Academy, renamed the Wolf Theatre after campus founding sponsors Dick and Noelle Wolf, is hands down one of the most gorgeous, advanced screening venues in the city, boasting a 62-foot-by-32-foot curved screen. Dolby donated all the sound and projection equipment to the Television Academy. The theater touts a 4K/3D projection system, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision and 113 JBL and Meyer speakers. While the venue is the same size as the old one at 600 seats, it feels massive given the cushy seats and ultra legroom. As networks gather voters this Emmy season to show off selected contending episodes, the hub will take public TV viewing to a whole other stratosphere.
Chelsea Handler, who kicked off the night’s festivities with The Brady Bunch‘s Florence Henderson, hit the nail on the head when she said the Wolf Theatre “is almost as big as Ted Sarandos’ screening room.” Later on, Tim Allen nodded to the building’s founding sponsors Cheryl and Haim Saban and quipped: “I’m thrilled to be here in Power Rangers Theater. It’s amazing. What a bunch of dough!”
Some of the events returning to the theater include the Emmy nominations, the College TV Awards and the film nights for members during weekends. In sum, the Wolf Theatre will have programming on 250 nights out of the year.
Kicking off the event and setting the cool mood before Handler and Henderson were Deca Boom, an a cappella duo that canvassed every primetime TV theme song imaginable including those from Saturday morning cartoons from The Addams Family to Muppet Babies.
“The Television Academy has empowered storytellers to push the boundaries of what television can and should be,” said WME head of television and Academy Executive Committee member Rick Rosen, introducing the Hall of Fame Cornerstone Award presentation. “And over that time, the Academy’s Hall of Fame has honored those individuals who’ve done just that — the actors and actresses, directors and writers, producers and executives. This year we’re doing something different by inducting not people but the entities that are the driving force of the Television industry – the networks that have made us the dominant force today.”
He continues: “None of us would be here without tonight’s inductees. In fact most of us here tonight wouldn’t have careers in this industry if these networks hadn’t shaped what they created in their early days. There would be no HBO, no Showtime, no Netflix and no Hulu.”
The awards to the networks were presented from youngest to oldest. Glee and Scream Queens star Lea Michele presented the award for Fox to Chairman of Network Groups Peter Rice, who recalled his early days as an intern in 1987 when the network launched. “I remember driving on to the lot and they had billboards for The Joan Rivers Show, 21 Jump Street and Werewolf,” he said.
“It was a funny summer. We were a weblet, not a network, and everyone expected us to fail,” Rice said. “And it was sort of derided and it was incredibly ambitious to launch a new broadcast network. Here we are 25 years later.”
Home Improvement and Last Man Standing star Allen presented the Cornerstone Award to ABC to Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group. Allen has worked at ABC for 25 years, logging 300 episodes across the two shows. After mentioning this, Allen joked to the house of Emmy: “What does it take to get one of those awards? I’m already here!”
In accepting the honor, Sherwood gave a shout-out to the “shoulders of the giants” that the network stands on, specifically Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger, the late ABC president Leonard Goldenson and Walt Disney. Sherwood quoted Warren Buffett on the latter duo’s legacy: “Disney and Goldenson had a rare edge; they could see into the future farther than the next fellow.”
Mom star and seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney presented CBS’ Cornerstone Award to Nina Tassler, former chairman of CBS Entertainment and TV Academy Foundation board member.
“Leslie (Moonves) and I want to acknowledge the role that so many have helped in building CBS and make it the network that it is today,” said Tassler. “All of the great leaders who have come before, starting with the great William S. Paley, to the many gifted and talented executives, producers, actors, writers who are part of the CBS family today. And it is just that, a family.”
Two-time Emmy winner Ted Danson took the podium to not only plug his upcoming NBC fall series The Good Place but to introduce NBC chief Greenblatt for the Peacock’s Cornerstone induction. Danson added to the night’s live laugh track, “For those of you who don’t know me well — you younger people — I’m known in this business as a TV heartthrob. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘obligation’ as presenting your new boss with an award when he asks you to.”
Danson added, “Actually he’s taking a big risk with (The Good Place) because it’s the only thing on NBC that isn’t about emergency workers living in Chicago.”
While many network chiefs referred to “standing on the shoulders of giants” last night, Greenblatt acknowledged NBC’s reign and success of its affiliates. “The broadcast network business isn’t just television that is beamed into millions and millions of homes,” he said. “All four of these companies exist with affiliate stations; markets across this country. Between the four us there are probably 400 affiliate stations. We are bedrocks of the community. Not only do we feed them national programs, but they are living in these cities and towns across this country and that’s a grass-roots organization that still exists today, and again I’m proud to be part of that as well.”
The evening ended with the grand snapshot of the TV Academy’s class photo. The Wonder Years‘ Fred Savage and The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad called up onstage stars and creators from the past and present including Newhart, Marion Ross (Happy Days), Charlotte Rae (The Facts of Life), Jerry Mathers (Leave It to Beaver), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Tony Hale (Veep), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Garry Marshall, Arsenio Hall, Suzanne Somers (Three’s Company), Carl Weathers (Colony), Ernie Hudson (Oz), The Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks, Maureen McCormick (The Brady Bunch), the cast of Mr. Robot — Christian Slater, Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday — and many more.
Speaking with Deadline after the event, Television Academy Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum said that with the opening of the Saban Media Center, “The biggest initiative we have is to continue to fund the Endowment for the Foundation and support all the nonprofit work for the Foundation, which includes internships, scholarships and faculty outreach. We’re excited about what Dick Wolf started for us, the foster youth initiative which gives kids a chance, who wouldn’t otherwise, a break into the business and to get exposure to all kinds of jobs.”
With the multitude of shows competing for Emmys this season, Rosenblum mentioned that submissions have risen from 5,000 to 6,000. “It’s an encouraging sign; there’s so much great television out there,” said the TV Academy chief. With the addition of Amazon, Netflix and Hulu to the mix, Academy membership rose from 20K to 22K. In response, the Academy has expanded the number of nominations in each category to spread the wealth.
“We’re confident our membership can sift through the work and really let the cream rise to the top,” Rosenblum said about the fierce competition this season. “It’s a good problem to have because there’s so much content being produced right now by our members, studios and networks.”