TV Academy Bosses on Monday’s Emmys, Future Category Switches and How They’re Rebuilding Membership
As they get ready for TV’s biggest night, Television Academy chairman/CEO Frank Scherma (above, left) and president/COO Maury McIntyre (right) spoke to Variety about what to expect as the Emmys return. Monday’s ceremony, which airs live starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC and Peacock, is hosted by Kenan Thompson and will feature John Legend performing his new song “Pieces” during the “in memoriam” segment of the show, as well as Zedd as the evening’s DJ, and comedian Sam Jay as announcer.
Here’s an excerpt of that chat, which ranges from the logistics behind this year’s ceremonies, the return of the Governors’ Gala, what to expect with host Thompson and the return of producers Done+Dusted and Reggie Hudlin, and what may be next in terms of category rule changes.
Will the variety talk/variety sketch issue be addressed before next year? How is the category realignment with the New York-based National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences going? And how is the org planning for the eventual renegotiation of the Emmy broadcast rights? Read on for more.
VARIETY: It does feel like maybe this year we’re getting ever so closer to “normal.” At least, is this the closest we’ve been to “normal” since 2019?
SCHERMA: I guess the real question, Michael, is what do we consider normal these days? If we’re saying, are we getting as close to what we used to do? Or is this kind of the new normal? From what I everything that I read, it looks like this is gonna be a new normal for a long time. I’m thrilled that we’re gonna have a bunch of people in the audience and we’re going to have nominees there, and we’re going to have a party again. To me that feels normal.
McINTYRE: What we’ve been saying is, we’re not going back. It’s not like we’re making a return to how we had just been doing things in the past. We absolutely learned a lot from the pandemic, we learned a lot from the two shows we did over the pandemic. We want to get the same sense of fun and a party as we had last year. But we’re also happy to be able to say we’re going to have an audience, which we haven’t had in two years. We’re going to have the galas afterwards, which we haven’t had in two years. If we’re back to normal, what we’re back to normal with is a sense of celebration. And that is really exciting.
Obviously, COVID still exists, so what does that mean for the ceremonies this year?
McINTYRE: We’re clearly under the guild return to work protocols. So both productions, the Creative Arts and the telecast, are having to follow the guild’s requirements for those who are actually working and in the production. What that means for the Creative Arts is, we’re basically just treating everybody kind of the same. So there is a testing requirement for anyone who goes. The production clearly has to test, in terms of their pre-show testing to actually just come to work. But even the entire audience, since so many of them are nominees and could be on that stage, will have to show proof of a negative COVID test. For the telecast, it’s a little different because the nominees and their guests are being separated a little bit from the main audience. So all production clearly has to be tested for COVID protocols, but it’s only the nominees and guests seated in their special section that will also have to be tested. Because they could all be interacting with the production and onstage. The main audience requirement is only proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
I know for this year’s Creative Arts Emmys the plan was tabletops, with around 94 tables, but there’s still a seating area in the back. I assume that that’s kind of the same thing for primetime as well?
McINTYRE: That’s correct.
What will the masking requirement be, if any?
McINTYRE:Masking will be required for the production crew. Masking will not be required for the audience.
SCHERMA: But if they want to, of course they can.
How much do you feel you still have license to experiment with? The past two Emmy telecasts have been a little looser and tried different things, partly out of necessity.
SCHERMA: I think we have to continuously try to be looser and try different things. I think we can never sit on our laurels and just say OK, ‘we’re going to do the same thing we’ve always done. And let’s just do that again and see how that works out.’ The entire entertainment industry continues to change and morph. The thing for us, we want to be respectful of the folks that are winning awards and have been nominated and give them their due. And at the same time, we have an audience out there watching it and how can we make it entertaining? Hopefully as we’ve done in the last couple of years, with the folks from Done+Dusted and Reggie Hudlin, we’ll be able to do some things this year that everybody will go wow, that was pretty cool. We hope.
McINTYRE: To that point, we’ve really benefited from having this great partnership with Done+Dusted and Reggie Hudlin. We rotate between the networks and we love our partners at the networks. But we’re not necessarily learning with them and growing with them each year because they change. We’ve been able to do that with Ian and his team and Hamish [at Done+Dusted] and Reggie and Byron, who have learned with us as we’ve gone. Part of it has been, it was a much looser show that first year of the pandemic. How can we make it feel loose and be a party, that was last year. Now how can we make that loose party feel fantastic with an audience of 3,000? That’s all of the things that we’re building on.
I’m sure you’ve noticed, the Motion Picture Academy now seems to be finally picking up on that, and they’re looking for a more permanent producer as opposed to what they’ve been doing the past several years. And making sure that permanent producer is more skilled in live TV, which you’ve also had for several years.
SCHERMA: That’s smart on their part.
Talk about the decision to go back to the Microsoft Theater. Were there thoughts of doing something in a tent like last year or going somewhere else?
McINTYRE: We certainly talked about a lot of different options and opportunities. And I would say that, you know, when we were first talking with Done+Dusted and with the NBC team. I want to give a lot of props to the NBC team. It’s actually a new team, Jen Neal and all the people on her staff. They’ve been so collaborative, and just so eager to roll up their sleeves and say, ‘OK, how can we make this just a great night of television?’ We talked about the tent and being back outdoors again. You don’t really get an audience there and we really wanted an audience back. We talked about what happens if you’re just in a large empty space and can you make that feel good? We have a long standing partnership with the Microsoft. We like being down there at LA Live. We like the idea of being in a large theater for this live space like that. In terms of everything we wanted to achieve, once we realized we could get the flexibility and the audience seating in the Microsoft it just made sense to stay there in the really great space that they offer.
You kept us on our toes until the very last minute with the host announcement. It was much later than than usual. What took so long?
SCHERMA: What we were trying to do is, when we’re figuring out what’s this celebration going to be? How are we going to have this celebration? What we were looking at was, what are we creatively going to do? And then once we had a little more of a handle on what the creative was, we could figure out who’s the right person to be executing what we’re trying to do. NBC was on board, we were on board, Done+Dusted. And then you can say, ‘this is the right person or the right people’ for that thing. And it turned out to be what we think is the perfect person for what we’re trying to accomplish this year [in Kenan Thompson].
Kenan is obviously the longest-running ‘SNL’ castmember of all time, and I would argue the greatest. There is that tricky fact that he wasn’t nominated this year. Is that a tad awkward?
SCHERMA: I spoke to Kenan after we agreed to this and everything that you hear about him, I felt that over the phone with him. Just the nicest, the most excited, had great ideas, wanted to do fun stuff. Was very enthusiastic about it all. His persona is really what we wanted for the room. And what we felt was right for the room. We couldn’t be more thrilled. I know the folks from NBC couldn’t be more thrilled. The Done+Dusted guys and Reggie, they love him. They’ve worked with them. So I think it worked out across the board for all of us. And especially for him. And even though he wasn’t nominated this year, I don’t think you have to be nominated to be the host. He’s been nominated before. I think he was looking at, ‘wow, this could be a blast.’ And he really appreciated it.
McINTYRE: He really got the idea that this is a celebration of television. And he is a part of television and he loves television. He is so beloved by so many people. Even as we’re talking to presenters, we’re still getting that same kind of reaction, that it’s so great that Kenan is doing this.
How much of an ‘SNL’ vibe will there be this year? Will Lorne Michaels be much involved? How much of an ‘SNL’ sensibility might be included in this year’s show?
McINTYRE: We kind of did the ‘SNL’ show last time. Lorne was very, very involved when it was Michael Che and Colin Jost. This time, we don’t expect to see that. This is a different show. It’s got a completely different vibe. We’re working with Kenan to make it kind of more of a Kenan show.
Let’s talk a little bit about other Academy issues. As as you and NATAS continue to iron out your new relationship, game shows are coming over to primetime. What does that means to the primetime competition?
SCHERMA: There is no such thing as primetime or daytime anymore, the way things are going. You watch things when you want to watch it, where you want to watch it. So for us it was more about genre and what genres were traditionally in NATAS, what genres are traditionally in ATAS and where they should live. That’s a lot of what we’ve been doing, and when you look at game shows now, there are new game shows on every single night, every day of the week now. It made sense that game shows came over to our show.
McINTYRE: In talking with the NATAS crew, I give a lot of props to [NATAS president] Adam Sharp on this because he’s the one who said, ‘we’re not seeing growth in this area on our side and it seems like all the growth is on yours. So, this seems like a natural one as we talk about the genres.’ Reality competition could always have been considered somewhat game show-esque, and so why not keep all of those competition shows together? I just think it’s really great in terms of the spirit of camaraderie we have between the two organizations now that we can have these conversations and there is no kind of territorialism. You’re seeing the growth there game shows grow in the Television Academy competition, and then we’ll talk about other things that we feel need to go into the the NATAS competitions. And I think that it’s just a testament to Adam and to Frank and [NATAS chairman] Terry [O’Reilly], the two chairs in terms of their relationship that they were able to do all this.
SCHERMA: And Maury’s not taking credit, but Maury and Adam have spent hours and hours and I with Terry have spent time, realizing we’re on the same team. We want what’s best for the Emmys. That’s what we keep striving for. We’re not looking at, what’s best for NATAS or what’s best for ATAS. And we both come to the conclusion OK, these are the things that are best for ATAS. These are the things best for NATAS. It’s a real pleasure to to figure these things out together.
We saw a couple of shows that that didn’t enter in the the primetime ceremony this year in order to instead enter the Children’s and Family Emmys. Is there a concern about people shopping ceremonies?
McINTYRE: I don’t want to call it a concern. But I would say that, we are aware of that. And we actually have mechanisms in place to say, ‘wait.’ Any show that has already established itself in a ceremony, if it wants to switch has to actually petition, they actually need to say, look, ‘we actually think we’re more this than that.’ We did see some people do that this year because it was the first time we had the Children’s & Family Emmys. But we also have a mechanism to where we look at it and we say we’re sorry, we think you are more like this than that. And then we will ask you to actually do a petition. And then we established that industry panel to review petitions like this. They make a ruling. And then once that is decided, that’s kind of set. You don’t get to then say, ‘we didn’t do well this year in that category. We want to go back to a different category.’ We’re learning. We tried it this year. We were pretty happy with it this year. We’ll make some tweaks for next year.
Just like how the lines have blurred between primetime and daytime or comedy and drama, it’s sometimes hard to define what’s a kid show vs. an adult show.
McINTYRE: That to me is actually a testament to just phenomenal creativity with television creators. We’re going to try to create a genre and they’re gonna defy that genre in whatever way they can. So I think that’s phenomenal.
Let’s discuss variety talk and variety sketch. You did find a way to to maintain the same number of nominees this year in variety talk by rounding up. But that kind of feels like a one-year fix to a long term problem. And in variety sketch there are few submissions left. I assume this will be a priority next year to figure out.
SCHERMA: It definitely is one of the things that’s on the agenda for this coming year. As television continues to change across the board, we have to try to change with it. And we have to look at those things. We’re talking to our network partners. We’re talking to the streamers, we’re talking all across the board. And we’re going to make some sort of decision.
Can you tell me what’s on the table right now?
SCHERMA: No, everything’s on the table right now. I can’t say there’s anything that’s done. We have so many different ideas and so many different things that I can’t say that we don’t know which direction it’s going to go in.
McINTYRE: I would say, Michael, if you have the correct answer, please tell us.
I’ve thrown out plenty of ideas for you.
McINTYRE: And we have all those ideas. We talked to the showrunners, we talked to the hosts, we talked to each of the networks that runs them. And if it was an easy call, we would have done it already. There is a lot of interest and we want to make sure we do it right. Clearly we made a decision a couple of years ago [in announcing a talk/sketch category merge] that people were not happy with and we revisited it. That just shows we’re willing to listen to our partners with what they have to say. We will have to make a decision at some point. We are planning to make that decision in the next couple of months. At which point we will announce it and then we’ll have to see how that goes and proceed from there.
You were so close to losing a talk nominee this year. Where did the idea come from to round up the number of submissions to make sure that you could at least keep the same number from last year?
McINTYRE: It’s actually more of a ‘let’s go back to the rule and see what we had written and done.’ Because we had always actually rounded up before. And for some reason, for the past few years, we had just kind of stopped.
John Landgraf now believes that we’ve hit the peak of TV volume and we’re going to start to see the declines after that. Does that mean the Academy will have to reconsider the thresholds that were put in place a few years ago to determine the number of nominees in a certain category? Is that a hard and fast rule or are those numbers a moving target as perhaps fewer productions are made in the coming years?
McINTYRE: I don’t think we have any rule that’s hard and fast. We constantly review our rules. The expanding scale we did for the number of nominees was based, essentially, on looking at the statistics of the number of entries we’ve been having. And so we looked at it and realized that 80 was kind of the average. So you ended up with, OK, so that should be your five. And then we did multiples of that. If in two years, suddenly it seems like 60 is our average, yes, I think the Academy will review it and go maybe we should shrink it. We think John is one of the brightest people in this industry. We call him Professor Landgraf. But he has been saying we’ve peaked for a while now and we still haven’t.
Several more awards shows have gone gender neutral, including recently the Spirit Awards and the Canadian Film Awards. Has the issue been addressed any further at the TV Academy?
SCHERMA: We allow people to enter into whatever category they feel comfortable entering in. So we’ve talked about whether we want to go gender neutrality. What we want to make sure that within our awards and the number of shows that we have, that that wouldn’t skew in one way or another. There are a lot of algorithms that [impact] what happens [elsewhere]. We’re sticking with what we have right now. But we’re always looking at those things.
McINTYRE: This is another one where I think we’d want to talk with SAG. This directly impacts SAG-AFTRA. You want to know that you’re not doing something that is going to disadvantage a set of performers over another set of performers. You just don’t know what those unintended consequences might be. At the same time, I think we recognize we are in a different age. We’re in a different age from when television first started, but we’re also in a different age from a societal perspective, in terms of recognizing all sorts of gender identities. How do we be respectful for all sorts of gender identities under our current system, and I think it’s something we’ll continue to talk about for a while.
Where do things stand with the TV Academy vetting process, as well as bolstering membership after your COVID dip?
McINTYRE: This year we had more than 17,000 voting members, so we’re seeing steady growth after the 2020 decline. Linda Swain, our new VP of Membership, was brought on board earlier this summer and is busy working on outreach and development strategies in line with the goals we set coming out of the membership survey results. We’re almost complete with our first phase of vetting. This year saw the largest participation in voting ever, so we’re confident we’re seeing highly qualified individuals engaged in the voting process.
So the afterparty is no longer the Governors’ Ball, it’s the Governors’ Gala. Tell me a little bit about the return of the event, for first time in a couple years.
SCHERMA: It’s gonna be a party. [For the Creative Arts,] people were like, ‘Oh, you’re doing this over Labor Day weekend.’ But that group, they work hard. And they party hard. And I love the idea that they could party just as hard on Sunday night as they could on Saturday night, because most of them [were] not working on [Labor Day].
McINTYRE: The Gala is a bit of an opportunity to rebrand. It’s all about the party and the celebration. And ‘Ball’ just has this kind of antiquated connotation. It’s a little more ceremonial and we were never a ‘Ball.’ This wasn’t a ballroom, there wasn’t ballroom dancing. So ‘Gala’ just felt a lot more fun. Being in a new venue again, because we’re back to the convention center, but we’re not inside the convention center. And so, with the theme ‘Light Up the Night,’ we just thought ‘Gala’ embodied the party atmosphere better.
We’re entering the final four years of the Emmy ‘wheel deal’ with the networks, which ends in 2026. Are you starting to think about those next negotiations?
SCHERMA: We always think about it, and going back to your original point, we look at these shows and hopefully bring a new element to them, so that hopefully the networks get the amount of viewers they want. Last year was a great year for CBS, they got great numbers and that really worked. It was a different type of show. We hope to continue to bring that to these networks. Because live events for the networks are going to still be really important to them. We want to be part of that with our network partners. And Mike, I’ll be gone by then!
Frank’s like, ‘that’s not my problem!’ Maury, who might you be employing to negotiate a new deal?
McINTYRE: We started thinking about it as soon as the last deal was signed. We’re always in conversations. It is absolutely something at the top of our strategic objectives each year in terms of who is going to help us with these negotiations. I don’t sense that we’ll start in earnest until the middle of the next four-year round. We’re prohibited from doing that. In terms of the planning and conversations around that, we’ve been doing it for a while.
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