Commentary: Emmy time-shifting embarrassment was a lose-lose situation
Millions of Emmy viewers will never know how close they came to something that they wouldn't have noticed in the first place.
The TV Academy announced on Tuesday contrary to previous plans, all 28 Emmy Awards will be presented live during the September telecast. The previous plan had been time-shift (not quite pre-taping, but close) eight categories during the telecast to free time. While those eight categories were spread over a number of disciplines, the Writers Guild of America took particular umbrage at losing telecast time for TV's scribes, raising a stink that carried over into last week's Television Critics Association press tour panel with producer Don Mischer and the Emmy team.
Perhaps after seeing that this was a story that wasn't going to go away (or that critics and showrunners weren't going to allow to go away), the TV Academy backed down and the Emmys will go back to business-as-usual, which means a return to their regular position as TV's dullest major award show.
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This whole ceremony has been a screw-up for CBS from the beginning. CBS began with the Emmys on September 20, but moved the show to September 13 when they realized that multiple NFL games that day could cause the telecast to be delayed. Nobody at CBS bothered to look at a Hollywood entertainment calendar, so the network was shocked to discover that MTV had previously scheduled the VMAs for September 13, forcing CBS to move the show back to its original date. As a result, CBS will will air a "flexible broadcast" of "60 Minutes" on September 20 and will try its darnedest to start the Emmys on time.
Geez. Who knew the Emmys were so inconvenient? The Emmys rotate amongst the four major TV networks and I'm not sure I remember any other network recently treating the show as such an imposition. Hoping to at least make the show run smoothly, CBS then hired Don Mischer to produce, which is the equivalent of playing "The Chicken Dance" at a wedding or bar mitzvah -- Nobody's going to think you're being very cool, but at least people will dance. CBS never could have guessed that Mischer would the TV Academy would choose this year to attempt to shake up the show's format.
Well, fortunately, it won't happen this year either. We dodged a bullet!
And the fact is that the critics who were most outraged about the Emmy time-shifting last week will be the exact same people who slam the show the morning after for being poorly paced, boring and not getting enough use out of host Neil Patrick Harris.
Here's where I get pragmatic on you: The Emmy Awards are not the Emmy Telecast and the Emmy Telecast has the responsibility to be exactly that, a telecast. And usually the Emmy telecasts are just plain bad.
Time-shifting the awards wouldn't, at least according to the show's producers, have prevented us from seeing the speeches from the various writers and directors (and even supporting actors) who were afraid of being shunted to the side. Their awards still would have been on the show in primetime and the speeches still would have been seen by the viewers and those viewers still would have used those writing and directing awards as a chance to use the bathroom, flip to another channel or pick up a book and read for three minutes. And yes, that last one was a joke.
The Emmys already announce dozens of awards at the Technical Emmys a week earlier, with some of those awards even going to recognizable performers and shows. Similarly, the Grammys and Tonys both announce many awards in either smaller ceremonies beforehand or entirely separate galas. Only the Oscars give every award in the nightly telecast, but they have a tradition of mocking categories like Sound Effects Editing or Live-Action Short Film, just so that those winners know that they've been marginalized.
The Emmy producers insisted that all we'd miss from the time-shifted categories were the walks to the stage, the hugging, the waiting for silence to make speeches. By trimming out those dead spaces, the producers were going to gain nearly 10 minutes of programming.
And with those 10 minutes they were going to... Include more footage from the nominated shows? And clips from outstanding shows that weren't nominated?
That's the best you can do to fix the Emmys, Don Mischer? Add more montages? If you're determined to piss off Hollywood's creative community, you'd better do it with more than "montages" and "more clips" up your sleeve.
The Emmy telecast isn't like the Oscars or the Grammys or the Tonys, in the sense that live performances aren't easy to build into the telecast. You can't just say "And this is the segment where somebody performs 'Jai Ho!' or where we can insert a number from 'Rent.'" The most innovative things Emmy producers have been able to do in recent years were to present the show in-the-round (which failed) or to get the nominated reality TV hosts to serve as Emmy hosts (which failed).
Josh Groban singing TV themes last year wasn't a total success, but it was a step in the right direction. Forget clips. Bring original entertainment to the telecast in some way.
How about filmed bits in which the casts from the Best Drama Series nominees perform brief scenes from the Best Comedy series nominees and vice versa? How about something like what the Oscars did last year with category presentations featuring TV legends? I'd watch Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore present Tina Fey with her latest Emmy, or watch Alan Alda and Kelsey Grammer present Jim Parsons with his surprise win.
So when the Emmys basically told the writers and directors "We're going to marginalize your biggest awards in exchange for more clip packages," they failed on two levels: They did an inadequate job of explaining what the time-shifting would entail and they offered the prospect of something even less entertaining to fill the gap. If the plan had been justified more diplomatically and the bonus time had been used with more creativity, the time-shifting scheme may not have been a bad idea at all. Instead, it was needless embarrassment for the Emmys.
We're going to get business as usual at the Emmys next month and the ratings will probably reflect that fatigue.