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Why the Television Academy Could Benefit From Big ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘This Is Us’ Wins

What's good for the broadcasters could be good for the Academy, as negotiations begin for a new Emmy TV rights deal with ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

THIS IS US "Moonshadow" Jack, Jeremy Luke

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

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When it comes to nominees, Television Academy officials can’t play Emmy favorites. But officials inside the org are probably quietly rooting for “This Is Us” and “Saturday Night Live.”

The two NBC series represent perhaps broadcast TV’s best hopes for a strong showing at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards.

And wins for “This Is Us” and “SNL” would come right as the Big Four broadcast networks negotiate a new contract to telecast the Primetime Emmy Awards. Such a victory might at least give ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox a bit more enthusiasm to strike a new and lucrative deal with the Academy.

As Deadline recently reported, attorney Ken Ziffren, who is once again representing the Television Academy in its negotiations (as he did in 2002 and 2011), met with business executives from the Big Four networks at the end of July to jump start talks.

The current “wheel” deal, in which all four networks take turns airing the Emmys (with CBS this year), expires after the 2018 telecast, which will be aired on NBC. The Academy is reportedly looking for an eight-year renewal of the deal, with a license fee bump (currently at $8.25 million annually).

But negotiations between the Television Academy and the networks have become more contentious over time. HBO and Turner have approached the TV Academy about taking over the Emmys in the past, but that appears to have been a non-starter for the organization. (And they don’t appear to be interested this time around.) The broadcasters have also hinted at creating their own awards show during previous renewal talks, and the last agreement, struck in 2011, came down to the wire.

Long-timers still remember the damage caused by the decision to take a lucrative pitch from then-upstart Fox in the late 1980s, back when the network was not as widely available. Viewership dropped off at that point, but returned once ABC took over the Emmys in 1993. The four-network wheel was launched in 1995, and the Emmy Awards broadcast has alternated between Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC (in that order) ever since then.

Here’s the rub: The networks have consistently asked the TV Academy to trim the number of awards handed out on the primetime telecast — this year, a whopping 27 — in order to add more entertainment value (and perhaps help boost ratings). Attempts in the past to do so have been met by resistance from various guilds, however.

The networks have also groused over the years about shelling out big bucks — and giving valuable primetime real estate — to a show that now celebrates more cable and streaming fare than broadcast.

As TV viewership splinters and lesser-known cable and streaming shows rise to the top of the Emmy nomination roster, telecast ratings continue to be an issue. The 2016 Emmys received rave reviews for host Jimmy Kimmel’s deft emcee duties, but nonetheless averaged a new all-time low in live ratings: 11.3 million.

Another problem: The NFL. The telecast generally airs opposite “Sunday Night Football” on NBC — except when it airs on the Peacock network, and in those years, the awards show is pushed back into August, when TV usage levels are lower.

Megahit cable shows like “Game of Thrones” (ineligible this year) and “The Walking Dead” (never a contender) aren’t represented in this year’s nomination tally, but the arrival of a populist hit like “This Is Us” (and not to mention the renewed vigor of politically-charged talk shows and “SNL”) might bring some viewers back to the fold.

“This Is Us” has a good shot at an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy, which would be the first broadcast show to take the top drama prize since Fox’s “24,” in 2006. (A broadcast drama hadn’t even been nominated in the category since 2011.)

“Yay broadcast TV, yay ‘This Is Us,'” NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said.

“Saturday Night Live,” meanwhile, already made history this year with 22 nominations, the most ever in a single year for a variety program. Coming off a buzzworthy season, “SNL” is the frontrunner for the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series Emmy – which would give the show its first variety series Emmy since 1993. (It has only won one other time, in 1976.)

The Peacock network was third overall with nominations (behind HBO and Netflix) among all outlets, with 64 nominations — up from 41 last year.

“Hopefully this is another indication that broadcast television is very much alive and well,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer. But his broadcast brethren didn’t do nearly as well, and as an Emmy arms race appears to be developing between HBO and Netflix, everyone else (including broadcast and basic cable networks) appear to be overshadowed.

Despite broadcast’s overall paltry Emmy showing, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl said it’s still an important awards show to hold on to.

“The Emmys are a celebration of television of all kinds, and I hope it would be seen on as big a platform as possible,” he said. “It’s a great place to promote our new shows, because people tuning in are fans of television. Would I love to get some of our people up there getting trophies next year? Absolutely.”

Added CBS senior executive vice president of programming Thom Sherman: “We would love to be nominated and have Emmys, but we also if push came to shove and we had to make a choice, we will take ad revenue and ratings over Emmys any day. But why can’t we try to have both?”

Stephen Colbert will host the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, which airs Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

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