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New vote; same outcome?
Emmy selection changes this year
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It's as predictable as the outcome of an old John Wayne western flickering on late-night TV: Controversy precedes the Emmys as surely as second-guessing follows it.
Just ask Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chairman Meryl Marshall, who recently interrupted her honeymoon to address the grumbles and gripes that precede this year's September 10 ceremony.
This year, the voting procedure has changed -- again. There have been snags in carrying it out. The carping has begun, and Marshall hears it.
"There's no possibility of pleasing everyone, and in fact, I think awards shows -- live events, competitions of any kind -- always garner an enormous amount of criticism," Marshall said in a recent interview. "That's part of the fun that the media have with it -- predicting the outcome and debating the horse race and debating the results. And so we expect that kind of criticism all the time.
"But there comes a time when you start to say to yourself, 'Are we just being traditional? Have we just locked onto something, and are we continuing to do it one way because it's always been done that way?"
Marshall and the academy's estimated 65 members have pondered those questions since last year's Emmys, when HBO's acclaimed mobster drama, "The Sopranos," was shot down by "The Practice," veteran producer David E. Kelley's legal series.
The ceremony touched an unpleasant chord among fans of the gangster drama, which had the largest cache of Emmy nominations, and the chorus began: Emmy was out of step with the times. Older, more conservative heads ruled. New blood didn't have a chance.
The response, Marshall suggested, was unjustified. "I really ... thought there were reasons 'The Practice' won last year," she said.
She also thinks the criticism was understandable, and she's concerned as the date approaches for the next ceremony.
"There were a lot of people in that room the night we gave the awards who were not connected with the results," she explained.
In recent years, 1,000 academy members -- a so-called "blue-ribbon panel" -- convened in an LA hotel over a weekend in August to make the final Emmy choices. Designated members sat together in a room and viewed videotapes of the five nominees in each category, thereby guaranteeing that those casting votes made their decisions based on first-hand knowledge of the contenders' work.
But what seemed like a fool-proof way to ensure fairness had one major drawback: August is a very busy month for most of the nearly 10,000 members of eligible Emmy voters. Shows are gearing up for the new season, people are taking last-minute vacations, and others may be finishing work on location or taking limited time from their shows to work on a feature film.
The result? Emmy winners in recent years have been decided by about only 10 percent of the academy's 10,000 members -- in short, the people who had the time or were willing to hole up in the hotel and look at tapes.
Hoping for greater participation, the academy this year mailed screening tapes to its members, who could view them at home in a 10-day period. Simple? In theory, yes.
Tapes inevitably went missing, or arrived late. In the case of one show -- CBS' sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- the tapes were stolen. The procedure, academy officials admit, did not go as smoothly as they hoped.
Another complication: Some Emmy nominees are also voters, a snafu that frequently bedevils the proceedings.
"I would like to be a part, as much as I can, of the voting process," Kim Cattrall, nominated for her co-starring role in HBO's "Sex and the City," said in a recent interview with CNN's Showbiz Today. "And I can't get away, into a room with six or seven people and judge. Time is precious."
More votes, different outcome?
Will expanding the number of voters make any real difference in who wins and who loses? Some Emmy observers believe that a larger voting base will include younger, presumably more liberal tastes -- and that, they say, could alter results in judging.
David Chase, who created "The Sopranos," isn't so sure.
Chase, whose show this year has 18 nominations, tying NBC's "The West Wing," cited a recent article in Writer's Guild that he thinks may play a role in the outcome of this year's ceremony. The article, written by Tom O'Neil, "maybe had a negative effect," said Chase.
O'Neil, author of Variety's "The Emmys," a book which chronicles the history and workings of the awards show, wrote that the Emmys have been the only award show which could not be accused of being a popularity contest. All 10,000 academy members could nominate by paper ballot their choices for the superlatives in the past season. The top five vote-getters' names went to the panel for final consideration.
Altering the judging procedure this year, he warned, could change that.
"For the first time, sentimentality and popularity may play a role in voting," O'Neil said in a recent telephone interview from New York. "The question is, how much?"
In years past, underdogs have won awards, sometimes saving from the ax critically acclaimed, yet low-rated shows. "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues," "Cagney & Lacey" and "Mission Impossible" all received renewed life after Emmy's official seal of approval.
"All those shows won Emmys because voters were forced to watch them," O'Neil said. This year, with no one to monitor the viewing activity of voters, "Will they watch them?" he asked.
The academy will act responsibly, Marshall insisted.
"I believe the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences are quite concerned with the prestige of the Emmys," she said. "They take their responsibility very seriously."
Regardless of results, the winners will have been decided by nearly three times as many Academy members -- more than 3,000, but still only about a third of the total academy membership.
Will that make a difference in the way people feel about the outcome? Marshall said she'll know almost immediately when she scans the ceremony's audience. "If people feel as if they're connected to the outcome, then they'll applaud it," she said, "whatever the outcome."
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