As I navigate the shoals of Emmy awards campaigns — with stacks of upcoming “FYC” events for Television Academy members, from Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” to CBS’s “The Late Late Show with James Corden” —I am stymied by the size of the Emmy voting bloc.
Somehow, 6,000 Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters are global yet scalable—Oscar experts know exactly how many live in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Barbara, and even which ones vacation in Aspen and Sun Valley every Christmas.
But 19,000 ATAS members? How is it possible to even put faces on this group? And which ones get to vote? Not all; an informed estimate is around 16,000. (One reason it’s so easy for press agents to lobby the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Golden Globes mentions is literally everyone knows those 90 LA-based media personally.)
For one thing, most ATAS voters for the Primetime Emmy Awards are based in Southern California or New York. While the Oscar has members from 17 branches all over the world nominating 24 categories, ATAS has 29 “peer groups” (listed below) whose members can nominate nationally televised shows and commercials, from publicists, executives, and “performers” (like the Motion Picture Academy’s Actors branch, the biggest group), to makeup and hair stylists, animators, casting directors, designers, editors, writers, and cinematographers. (Unlike AMPAS, “professional representatives” and stunts people are included; agents and managers can only vote for the top TV categories.) Seventy percent of Emmy members are below the line.
It’s much easier to join ATAS than the elite corridors of the Motion Picture Academy, where membership is by invitation only, as would-be members lobby and plead for recommendations to their branch’s executive committee, which vets the annual invites. It can take years to pass muster—if you ever do. That’s one reason being an Academy member means something. (One respected personal publicist told me that she was so tired of being rejected by the Academy that she doesn’t even want to be a member anymore.)
With ATAS, you can apply online: if you fulfill your minimum credits and stay active with two recommendations (which you don’t need if you’ve been nominated in the last four years), you’re in within four to six weeks. Until recently, AMPAS allowed membership for life; those rules are being rejiggered in an attempt to make the organization more relevant.
In the olden days of Emmys, a “blue ribbon” voting panel used to hole up at a hotel with a yummy buffet watching episodes (sometimes on fast-forward) and deciding the final Emmy nominations; now, DVD and online screeners are sent to members, all of whom can vote on the outstanding program nominations. (Peer group members vote on categories pertinent to their own field, be it acting, writing, directing or below the line.)
Still, that’s a lot of content to cull through. “It’s a lot to watch in a 2-3 week span,” one top director told me. “It’s so hard to narrow it to five—mini-series, comedy, drama— when the number of shows is like 300. There’s too much to watch that’s good. If you’re not on the zeitgeist you’ll never get nominated.”
Despite attempts to broaden the voting base (the entire TV Academy now can vote for the outstanding program winners), the same top shows seem to repeat year after year—they’re the most popular, the ones that everyone sees. Which is why the ante is so high for publicists, who must grab as much attention as possible for shows on the cusp that want to get noticed. As awards campaigners will tell you, it’s about getting seen, and moving to the top of the screener pile.
ATAS is not to be confused with The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), which is based in New York and handles daytime (including soap operas), news and sports Emmys, plus local Emmy awards in major markets except Los Angeles. Both organizations (which split acrimoniously in the 1970s) jointly “own” the Emmy Award.
Both film and TV organizations have a Board of Governors of similar size. While the Motion Picture Academy’s board is comprised of three reps from 17 branches —51—plus three governors-at-large recently tacked on to add diversity (Jennifer Yuh Nelson brings the ranks of women on the board to 18), the TV board has two reps for 29 peer groups, or 58, with 19 women.
One major difference is the telecast rights for the Oscars vs. the Emmys. ABC currently has the Academy Awards telecast exclusively locked through 2020 (and is said to be negotiating an extension). The network is believed to be paying $50 million a year for the rights.
The Emmy telecast, on the other hand, is split four ways, between ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox (which all take turns broadcasting the show via a “wheel” arrangement). The Television Academy receives an annual $8.25 million license fee from the networks, but that deal is set to expire in 2018. ABC has this year’s rights; the “68th Primetime Emmy Awards” will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel (who also hosted in 2012) and broadcast live from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 18.
Only two Emmy hosts in the last decade have also hosted the Oscars: two-timer Neil Patrick Harris (2009 and 2013) and talk show host Ellen DeGeneris (2005); the others range from SNL grads Andy Samberg (2015), Seth Meyers (2014) and Jimmy Fallon (2010) to Garry Shandling (2004) and Conan O’Brien (2006).
Clearly, there’s a perception gap between the Emmys and the Oscars. The former awards show seems more conventional and mainstream, not as discerning, elite and highbrow as the latter. But as more film and TV people move back and forth between both worlds, will people care more about the Emmys and take them more seriously?
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