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Emmys alter show's format

July 30, 2009 |  5:26 pm

EmmystatueStory Hoping to expand the appeal of the Emmy Awards, producers of the Sept. 20 telecast plan to truncate the presentation of many of the movie and miniseries awards in order to spotlight more popular television programming.

The winners of eight Emmy categories will be named approximately 45 minutes before the broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PDT, allowing producers to air edited versions of their acceptance speeches later in the program. That will free up time in the telecast to highlight shows such as “American Idol” and “CSI” that attract large viewership but little critical acclaim.

The board of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences approved the change Wednesday night in an effort to increase the relevancy of an award show whose nominees are increasingly from cable shows with small audiences.

“We’re trying to make the Emmys more relevant to mainstream viewers, while honoring the choices of the television academy properly and respectfully,” said Don Mischer, the executive producer of this year’s three-hour telecast, which is airing on CBS.

But the change drew protests from some cable networks and the Writers Guild, which complained that their members were being slighted so the program could pander to popular shows that otherwise wouldn’t have a presence on the telecast.

HBO, which has 18 nominations in the eight categories that Mischer has proposed to pretape, was particularly irked.

“For a show that has always recognized the best in the television industry, it now seems to be increasingly focused on recognizing broadcast network television,” the premium cable channel said in a statement. “That is unfortunate given the range and caliber of talent represented in these categories which are being singled out for time shifting.”

Mischer insisted that the categories that will be pretaped will not be given short shrift.

“I really don’t look at it as a second-class position,” he said.

The move comes after last year’s widely panned Emmys show drew one of the award program’s smallest audiences in two decades. Just 12.3 million viewers tuned in for the production on ABC, which was co-hosted by a bevy of reality show hosts. A record low number of 18-to-49-year-olds watched the program.

Mischer said that “alarmed everyone, including the TV academy,” which hired a research firm to study why interest in the show was waning.

“A key finding was that potential viewers said they did not tune in because the Emmys featured shows that viewers didn’t know and weren’t interested in,” he said. “Last year, 65% of Emmys went to what might be described as niche shows.”

The challenge facing this year’s producers is pulling in fans of broader television programming without undercutting the Emmys’ purpose.

“CBS, Don Mischer and the academy all share the same goal: to deliver the most entertaining Emmy telecast possible for the television viewers,” the television academy said in a statement. “We believe these changes will allow us all to do that.”

By time-shifting and shortening the presentation of eight of the 28 award categories traditionally given on the national telecast, Mischer said producers will save between 12 and 15 minutes. That time will be devoted to last year’s most popular television moments, along with live entertainment, sketches by host Neil Patrick Harris and opportunities for viewer interactivity, he said.

“Part of what we’re doing is to try to put in more content that would appeal to a broader range of viewers across this country,” he said.

The final list of categories that will be time-shifted will not be determined for several weeks. But a preliminary list Mischer proposed included many of the long-form awards whose nominees this year largely hail from HBO productions such as “Grey Gardens,” “Into the Storm” and “Generation Kill.”

The change would also affect the AMC show “Mad Men,” last year’s Emmy darling, which this year captured four of the five nominations for best writing for a drama series, one of the categories that may be pretaped.

The list also includes best miniseries; best made-for-television movie; best writing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special; best directing for a variety, music or comedy series; best directing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special; best supporting actor for a miniseries or movie; and best supporting actress for a miniseries or movie.

“The writers are the storytelling stars of television, and we are disappointed that the academy chooses to diminish our members’ invaluable and essential contribution to the medium,” said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East. “We ask that they reconsider the decision for this and future Emmy broadcasts.”

The Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America declined to comment until a final plan was approved.

Mischer promised that the time-shifted awards will be “presented with dignity and respect.”

Producers plan to tighten the winners’ walks on and off the stage and shorten their remarks, but he said no one would be cut out of the telecast.

“In every one of the categories, nominees are going to be listed and winners are going to talk on the air and they’re going to be able to make a coherent, substantial statement,” he said.

Some logistical challenges remain, including how to wrangle audience members to arrive in time for a show that will now begin around 4:15 p.m. That will push up the red carpet arrivals, as well.

“Whether or not this solves all the long-term problems, I don’t really know,” Mischer admitted.

“But I do feel really optimistic.”

A previous version of this post is available.

By Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times Staff

Photo credit: Fox

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