When he leaves his post as Chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences following a pair of 2-year terms at the helm, John Shaffner goes out on a high. The art director helped to forge a new 8-year Emmy telecast wheel deal with the 4 broadcast networks that brings a license fee of at least $8.25 million annually and $66 million over the course of the pact (an increase of $6 million over the previous). Shaffner spoke with Deadline TV contributor Ray Richmond about why it took nearly 9 months to get the agreement finalized, where the Emmys go from here, and why the Emmycast’s lukewarm ratings don’t trouble him:
DEADLINE: Congratulations on the new 8-year Emmycast deal. It only took about 9 months to negotiate. Why so long?
JOHN SHAFFNER: You know these things just take time to work through. When we began conversations last year, there were two new guys in there heading up entertainment at the broadcast networks: you had Paul Lee at ABC, and huge uncertainty at NBC with Comcast coming in. The business affairs people were all trying to answer for their bosses and ascertain what the goals should be. Plus, there was the fact we were trying to get this started at the beginning of the fall season with all of that anxiety. Now we’re 4 to 6 weeks out and things aren’t working and everybody’s reordering their schedules. Then you turn around and, bam, it’s Christmas. Then everybody’s busy reading pilot scripts.
DEADLINE: So you’re saying you couldn’t get everyone in the same room to focus on banging out a new Emmy contract even for a day or two?
SHAFFNER: No, we couldn’t. Assembling the leadership of the networks together just wasn’t happening. It’s not the way it was done 8 or 16 or 20 years ago. It’s a new age where no one has time to set a meeting. It’s all done on the Internet. So the process goes around the loop and around the loop and takes a very long time. Even once you get around to finalizing a document and closing escrow, it takes weeks to get everything in order.
DEADLINE: So how does anything ever get done?
SHAFFNER: It’s very difficult when you need everyone’s attention when there are so many things competing for their time. These are incredibly busy people we’re talking about. But it was never a case of our being far apart. From the first meeting, I knew we’d get to a pretty good place. The network guys are all really good people who love television and were tremendously supportive of the TV Academy and the work we do.
DEADLINE: We had heard that a sticking point in the contract negotiations was opposition to keeping the writer and director awards in the primetime telecast. Was that ever on the table?
SHAFFNER: The Hollywood Guilds have nothing to worry about. I personally would have been opposed to any sudden proclamation changing the way we honored members of the WGA and the DGA. There has to be consensus, and sometimes the most interesting thing in an Emmy program is the acceptance speech given by a winning writer. We’d hate to lose that. Maybe we could discuss the way we set up the category on the show rather than changing it out. However we do it, they will continue on the show.
DEADLINE: But I noticed that in the announcement of your new contract, there was a line that read, ‘For the subsequent 7 years of the agreement, the designated network broadcasting the Primetime Emmys and the Academy will give due consideration to reviewing the award categories and the manner of presentation of awards, taking into account the interests of various constituencies of the Academy.’ Doesn’t that basically say the telecast could undergo radical changes with each passing year?
SHAFFNER: What our agreement says, first off, is that we decided not to mess with it at all this first year. Let’s breathe. What that other line means is, we wanted to indicate in writing that there would be a continuing conversation annually about how to make the best telecast, without committing to having to do anything.
DEADLINE: But it says you’re also open to the possibility of a major overhaul.
SHAFFNER: Yes. But one of the great things about this institution is we have discussions to keep the lemmings from jumping off the cliff. There will be no rush to judgment. Do you know what the market research tells us? That one of the things the audience likes best is the ‘In Memoriam’ sequence. We figured that was the time everyone ran to the bathroom. But we were wrong. Everyone’s glued to the TV. That serves as a reminder that the meat and potatoes of the telecast is very important to people. It can all just be frosting. (more…)