Emmys to pretape eight categories

Move will save time; likely to affect longform awards

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The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards will be short on longform, and HBO isn't happy about it.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' board of governors has voted to approve a time-shift of eight of the 28 categories for this year's primetime awards.

The presentations of those awards will be taped before the televised start of the Sept. 20 ceremony and aired in an edited format during the CBS broadcast, cutting walk-ups and trimming some remarks.

The eight categories in question will be finalized in the next couple of weeks. But they will probably be close to the ones proposed Wednesday by Emmys executive producer Don Mischer to the board of the Academy that mostly affect the longform arena.

They include best movie and best miniseries; writing for drama series and writing for movie/miniseries; directing for movie/miniseries and directing for variety, music and comedy series; and supporting actor and actress in TV movie/miniseries. (According to an agreement with the guilds, there has to be parity in the time-shifted categories: two each for actors, directors, writers and producers.)

The decision to condense was made after the Emmys hit a ratings low last year, leading to the TV Academy ordering a report from a research firm that showed that the main turnoff for viewers was that they weren't familiar with the winning programs.

"We try to make the Emmys more relevant to mainstream viewers while honoring the choice of the Academy properly and appropriately," Mischer said.

The exclusion of the eight proposed categories would affect the representation of cable TV on the telecast. All nominees in the best TV movie or miniseries category this year are from cable, which also is heavily represented in the other fields proposed for time-shifting.

"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," HBO, which dominates the longform arena, said Thursday.

The issue was also brought up at the cable network's TCA presentation.

"It's just odd you would minimize categories that have huge viewership and an enormous amount of talented people," HBO co-president Richard Plepler said.

The Academy's deal with the broadcast networks is up for renewal after this year's telecast. Asked whether HBO might bid for the Emmys in response to the proposed changes, programming chief Michael Lombardo noted that HBO (under predecessor Chris Albrecht) proposed to take over the ceremony but the Academy opted for the broader broadcast reach.

"I don't think our response would be a defensive one to bid as a tit-for-tat," he said.

The proposed Emmy changes also didn't sit well with the Writers Guild.

WGAW president Patric Verrone called the board's decision to eliminate the live presentation of two writing awards "a clear violation of a long-standing agreement" between the WGA and ATAS.

"It is also a serious demotion for writing and a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of writers in the creation of television programs," he said. "Last year's Emmys suffered a tremendous decline in quality and ratings because of a lack of scripted material (when five reality show hosts improvised during the opening). That the Academy would then decide to devalue the primary and seminal role that writing plays in television is ridiculous and self-defeating."

It is not clear yet if the time-shifted categories will air in groupings or individually dispersed throughout the telecast, but they will be labeled as prerecorded, Mischer said.

He pointed to the Tony Awards, which also employs time-shifting. The Emmy pretaping also will shift the ceremony's red carpet, whose start will be moved up. E! and TV Guide Network, which specialize in red carpet coverage, were expected to announce any changes to their coverage soon.

The estimated 12-15 minutes from the Emmy telecast saved by time-shifting-related cuts will be used for more "bigger picture" material, including showcasing popular series or events such as the inauguration of President Barack Obama, which are not necessarily up for awards.

Hit series will need additional props, with only three mainstream scripted shows -- ABC's "Lost" and Fox's "House" and "Family Guy" -- making it to the best series categories.

Meanwhile, tentpole "Grey's Anatomy" is up in only one category featured in the telecast, supporting actress in a drama series, in which Sandra Oh faces Chandra Wilson. "Desperate Housewives" and the "CSI" franchise have been shut out.

Mischer also is discussing with CBS Interactive adding interactive elements on the show.

The TV movies and miniseries genres, once staples on broadcast TV, have virtually disappeared from the terrestrial networks, with CBS' Hallmark Hall of Fame franchise as the only notable exception. And the miniseries field has shrunk so much in the past few years that only two projects landed noms this year -- "Generation Kill" and "Little Dorrit."