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Emmy Producer Tames Ferocious TV Critics

Hotted up TV critics, ready to rumble with this year's Primetime Emmy Awards producer Don Mischer, got hit in the face with a wallop of wake- up- and- smell- the- ratings.

With the best of intentions, the critics attending Summer TV Press Tour 2009 have been chest-thumping about Mischer and the TV Academy ever since they unveiled plans to give less airtime to some Emmy derbies in order to add more material that might attract some actual viewers.

Egging on critics are various industry guilds that have issued crisp, stern statements signed by more than a hundred Hollywood Hotshots equally knicker-knotted about the planned changes -- riveting "We the undersigned" stuff.

Only 12 million people watched last year's Emmycast - a record low. This is not terribly surprising, given the Emmys each year more closely resembles the defunct CableAce Awards. Cable now dominates the movie, the miniseries, and the drama series derbies.

But trophy shows as an entire genre are suffering similar ratings fates, Mischer came to the tour to explain to critics.

"I'm telling you guys, the writing is on the wall and every other awards show knows it, and every other award show is starting to take action," he said ominously, taking a lot of the wind out of the TV critics outrage.

The TV Academy did extensive research after last year's broadcast and learned that potential viewers had not tuned in because "they felt the Emmys featured shows that mainstream viewers did not know and were not interested in," Mischer explained.

Here's how Mischer's plan would work: Emmy-show attendees would have to show up slightly earlier than in the past, though they still would still spend less time in their seats than those poor souls who attend the Academy Awards, which can drone on forever - once it even ran into the next day.

Shortly before the live Emmycast begins, the wins would be handed out in eight of the whopping 28 categories with which the Emmycast is saddled. Then, while the live show is starting up, Mischer's team would quickly edit the boring bits out of those eight categories. And, by "boring bits" we mean the traditional walk-to-the-stage, the traditional reading of the list of agents, managers, studio suits and publicists who had made the winner's career so brilliant, and the traditional walk-off-the-stage.

Trimmed of these mind-numbing moments - it's called "time-shifting" - the category would then air during the Emmy broadcast you see at home. Mischer thinks he can save about 15 minutes of the 3-hour orgy of trophy dispensing.

"Personally, I think it's going to be quite fun for those people whose categories are announced early because not only do they get to go up on stage and win, later in the evening, they can sit in the audience and watch themselves win again. So I see it like it's going to be very fun for those people," said academy CEO John Schaffner, who had joined Mischer on stage. And while the academy has done so much over the years to convince TV critics it is a compendium of nincompoops, this statement seemed to mark a much bigger stride in that direction than usual.

Fortunately for Mischer and CBS, which is broadcasting this year's Emmycast, Schaffner seemed to have shot his wad with this statement; he spent the rest of the Q&A sitting next to Mischer, looking like a stuffed owl.

Mischer said he would use the 15 minutes to add, among other things, the most moving moments from TV programs that had aired over the year - from both nominated shows and non-nominated. This, he maintained, would draw in more viewers.

Did you know, for instance, that during last year's Emmycast, you saw less than 40 seconds of actual scenes from movies and miniseries that had aired over the year - but suffered through eight acceptance speeches?

"We believe that by shortening the acceptance speeches it will allow us to show more longform content and when you look at it, man, it is good," Mischer said.

"We're looking to put entertainment into the show," Mischer said. "We're looking to put riveting things into the show that hold people and grab people. Sometimes there are people like the young man who wrote 'Milk' at the Oscars, who got up there and just held us spellbound with that speech.

"One thing about time-shifting is, when people pull out a piece of paper and start thanking a lot of agents and lawyers, I would say that that's probably going to be a little bit more vulnerable," Mischer said of his "time-shifting" plans.

And across The Valley and into Hollywood and Beverly Hills was heard the din of Hotshots screaming "Noooooo!"

By Lisa de Moraes  |  August 4, 2009; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Summer TV Press Tour 2009  
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Either give all the awards to the Brits, who know how to give a speech, or let all potential winners know that you will cut to commercial at the first mention of thanking everyone they have ever met.

Seriously, if you want to thank your hair stylist, thank them after the show. People are watching, your job is to entertain (be it acting, writing, directing), so say something interesting, for god's sake. Naming every person who has ever stroked your ego is not 'must see TV' for me. I only watch so I can participate in Lisa's snarky on-line chat. She goes, I go.

Posted by: junieb13 | August 4, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"and while the academy has done so much over the years to convince TV critics it is a compendium of nincompoops, this statement seemed to mark a much bigger stride in that direction than usual"

That was hilarious.

Posted by: fugo1 | August 5, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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