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Emmy telecast needs improvement

by Jim Longworth

In the early days of television, and for many years thereafter, the Emmy Awards were an intimate affair held in hotel ballrooms and historic theaters. It was a formal celebration where industry insiders honored their peers for artistic excellence. Emmy was prestigious. Never was that more evident than in 1971 when George C. Scott, who had rejected his Oscar for Patton, accepted his EMMY, saying that the Television Academy’s award was “more serious.”

And then there was the memorable 1986 telecast in which co hosts David Letterman and Shelley Long gave up the spotlight to Lucille Ball who came on stage to present the Governor’s Award to Red Skelton. It was a classy evening.

If only that were true of more recent Emmy shows. Who can forget the 2008 debacle featuring five reality-show hosts as the co-emcees. Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and Ryan Seacrest assured Academy brass that they had a great routine planned. But as it turned out, their grand plan was to ad-lib about nothing, and it was painful to watch.

Speaking of reality shows, they were regretfully given their own Emmy category in the new millennium, much to the chagrin of Hollywood’s creative community who had seen their primetime hours of comedy and drama diminished by the onslaught of this inane genre. Even worse, by elevating these shows to equal status with scripted programs, the academy signaled that it’s top priority moving forward would be to attract a younger audience to the annual fete. Big mistake. No television program can be all things to all people, but you should never risk alienating your base in order to appease a fringe. Proof of that was this year’s Emmy show which was down over a million adult viewers from 2010.

Last week’s broadcast was generally unimpressive. Jane Lynch, one of America’s premiere comedic actresses is neither a stand-up comic nor a singer, so, of course, the producer called on her to tell jokes and sing. Go figure. The most memorable moment came when Amy Poehler engineered a faux beauty pageant on stage for nominees in the best comedy actress category. The bit was well conceived, well executed and was the hit of the night. It left me sad that the rest of the show wasn’t up to the same standards as Poehler’s sketch.

As a voting member of the academy, and as an Emmy judge, I have more than a passing interest in how our industry honors itself, so here are a few suggestions on how to improve the annual telecast.

Distribution

First, change the terms of the Emmy telecast contract so that any commercial network or cable channel who wants to compete, must agree to simulcast the awards show. This is the ONE night each year when television honors excellence in its own industry, therefore, broadcasters should either support the celebration, or else forfeit their chance at a statue.

Length and format

Shorten the show to a maximum of 90 minutes. Eliminate anything having to do with reality TV programs, and if they must be recognized, do so at a separate ceremony. Also, no song-and-dance numbers PLEASE. This year’s musical montage featuring Michael Bolton imitating Johnny Depp as a pirate made no sense and was a waste of time. Top flight bands are available who can wow the audience on lead-ins, walkups and bumpers, and they can be assigned to the show based on the host for that year (Paul Shaffer with Letterman, the Roots with Fallon, etc..)

Categories

Go back to separate awards for miniseries and TV movies. The two genres were combined this year in a not so subtle effort to keep HBO from sweeping both. The Emmy show shouldn’t be a political ally for the four major networks who can’t seem to compete with cable. Also, re-institute the Governor’s Award for legendary TV performers. I don’t care what anyone in Hollywood says, nostalgia is still big.

Hosts

Limit the hosting duties to people who actually host for a living. The Emmys are not the Tony’s. We don’t need a song-and-dance man. Fallon, Letterman, Kimmel and Rosie are traditional TV broadcasters who can follow a script and ad-lib with equal aplomb. Use them.

Term limits

Finally, institute a new rule that makes anyone who wins his category three years in a row ineligible to compete for the next three years (sorry “Daily Show”). Oprah and Candice Bergen took themselves out of consideration when it became obvious that they had no competition, so there’s a precedent for setting limits.

So, here’s hoping for a better show in 2012. Emmy deserves it.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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