TV Academy & Guilds Exploring Changes In Presenting Emmy Categories Ahead Of Networks Finalizing New “Wheel” Deal

Sean Spicer

It’s been a couple of months since the TV Academy and ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC reached a preliminary agreement in principle on a new eight-year “wheel” deal that would keep the Primetime Emmy Awards on the Big 4 broadcast networks through 2026. But ahead of next week’s announcement of the nominees for the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards on NBC — the last ceremony under the current eight-year deal — a new contract has still not been signed.

While basic terms for the new pact had been agreed upon — the four nets rotating in hosting the Emmys and a minor increase from the current license fee, believed to be $8.25 million a year — there is another aspect still being worked out: how some of the categories are presented during the telecast.

In the past two months, I hear the TV Academy has been leading an outreach to the Hollywood guilds — primarily WGA and DGA — about ways to package differently some categories during the main Primetime Emmys telecast to free up time for more entertainment content. “We have no comment,” a TV Academy spokesperson said. (While the DGA and the WGA have granted waivers only to the Emmys and the Oscars to insure that its members’ categories are included, SAG had agreed to an automatic waiver for any awards show.)

The tone was set a year ago with a document that proceeded the first official get-together between TV Academy leadership and reps for the broadcast networks. The missive acknowledged the broadcasters’ desire to make the Primetime Emmys more compelling, possibly by trimming the number of awards given out live on air.

The TV Academy and the networks can’t force a reduction of the categories awarded during the main telecast, and I hear that is not something being pursued. Instead, I hear the TV Academy has been discussing with the guilds — as well as TV networks — changes that would keep the number of categories the same, getting all guild members recognized, while presenting some more efficiently to help make the telecast more entertaining and commercial.

This is something most awards shows, including the Oscars, are grappling with amid sliding ratings; it was spotlighted in the scathing resignation letter Bill Mechanic sent to the AMPAS board earlier this year.

The most recent 2017 Primetime Emmy Awards on CBS matched the all-time low viewership of the 2016 show with 11.4 million viewers, hitting a new demo low for a second year in a row.

The category issue is very political, with previous attempts to take writing and directing categories out of the live Emmy telecast failing after the WGA and DGA threatened to charge the TV Academy steep fees for the right to use show clips they otherwise grant for free. Such a move can only be done with the unions’ blessing, something they had been unwilling to do in the past.

But while the issue had been contentious in the past, I hear this time discussions have been constructive as all sides acknowledge that changes need to be made, and people close to the matter are sounding optimistic that a solution could be reached.

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