Great Expectations

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Academy chair John Shaffner on Emmy hosts, Mark Burnett and why Star Search owes him one.

How did you feel when the telecast deal with Fox was finalized earlier this month?

Thrilled. It's very difficult to congregate people in this town anymore. We didn't all sit down at a big table together and do it in a day. It just took time. The network community has really stepped up and has faith in what the TV Academy does on behalf of the people who work in television.

What is your biggest Emmy priority right now?

The No. 1 goal is to search for a great host -- the person who invites you into the party and keeps you engaged. When you don't have that, you really lose the evening. It's very much like when you entertain at home. You want to make sure that the evening goes well, and that's what a host does. We are looking at a pretty big field right now.

What structural changes are you considering making to the show?

We would like to explore keeping awards grouped by genre. I think it helps to tell a story. We succeed when we let the evening have an arc that makes sense, rather than a grab bag of this and that. You can't underestimate that the audience wants to learn while they are watching as well, and so when you address a group of material genre like comedy, drama, etc., that helps. We also want to keep the year-in-review concept. We're also always challenged by how to integrate entertainment in the show. With both Neil Patrick Harris and Jimmy Fallon, the musical material that they provided was very organic to the evening. It wasn't just dropped in.

Have you ever worked with this year's Emmy producer, Mark Burnett?

Yes, I was a production designer on a pilot of his once called Commando Nanny. It was about Mark's life -- moving to Los Angeles and getting a job as a nanny for a family in Beverly Hills. He is in love with TV. He wants to put his own brand on the Emmys -- of course, kind of youth-oriented in a way -- but we also want to make it totally intergenerational. That we're not taking ourselves away from so many of our viewers who have always tuned in. I'm very excited.

It probably doesn't hurt to have the producer of NBC hit The Voice at the Emmys' helm.

Not at all. That show has done very well. I've always been very personally invested in talent shows because I had worked on Star Search from the pilot on. In fact, I named the show.

Wait, you named Star Search?

It was going to be called Talent Challenge, but I was having the hardest time coming up with the concept for the graphic package, and I said: "We gotta think about this. We're looking for stars; it's like a talent contest; it's a talent search; it's a star search!" And it stuck.     

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Important milestones for this Emmy season

  • June 6 Nominating ballots are posted on the Television Academy's website
  • June 24, 5 p.m. Deadline for returning nominating ballots to Ernst & Young
  • July 14, 5:35 a.m. Nominations are announced live from the Leonard H.
  • Goldenson Theatre
  • Week of Aug. 1 At-home judging DVDs for Creative Arts categories are mailed
  • Week of Aug. 8 At-home judging DVDs for the telecast awards categories
  • are mailed
  • Aug. 19, 5 p.m. Deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for Creative Arts  
  • Aug. 26, 5 p.m. Deadline for returning at-home judging ballots for telecast awards
  • Sept. 10 Creative Arts Awards and Governors Ball
  • Sept. 18 Primetime Emmys telecast and Governors Ball