HBO stands alone against Emmy split proposal

Broadcast exec says show's current format is 'preposterous'

The major broadcast networks are serious about splitting the Primetime Emmys into two shows, and they have support among cable networks who share a frustration about HBO so thoroughly dominating the longform categories and the event's third hour.

One show would honor all series and air on broadcast, while the other would recognize the TV movies and longform projects that run on cable, like HBO's "Temple Grandin," which went 5-for-5 at the Emmys on Sunday night. The broadcast version would use the time gained to become a more entertainment-oriented program.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' contract with the Big Four broadcasters to air the Emmys expired with Sunday's telecast.

Supporters of maintaining it a single show counter that without HBO, the Emmys would lose such marquee talent as Al Pacino, Claire Danes and Tom Hanks -- film stars who attended the Emmys this year only because they worked on HBO telefilms.

"It's a little bit like crying over your own inadequacies," said Barry Levinson, who directed "You Don't Know Jack" for HBO. "[Broadcasters] used to do longform. They stopped. So it's hardly fair for them to say, 'Gee, now that we don't get our Emmys, we're upset.' It's hard to have any sympathy over things they abandoned because they're charting another course."

"Jack" executive producer Steve Lee Jones also is against a split.

"HBO is spending serious theatrical budgets on cable TV movies," he said. "Instead of people pointing a finger at them and trying to exclude them, [HBO] should be rewarded for it. If others would follow suit, we'd have more quality programs."

An HBO spokeswoman would say only that the network will "let the work speak for itself."

Others see hypocrisy in the potential split.

"It would be a shame for the networks to make this divide when a few years down the line they may decide they want to be making miniseries and longform again," said Gary Goetzman, Hanks' producing partner at Playtone, which produced "The Pacific" with Steven Spielberg. "Who knows how they'll feel in years to come? But it is HBO that is getting the short end of the stick (now) if they move them off to another show."

"Pacific" led all programs with eight Emmys this year.

A top broadcast executive told THR that it has become "ridiculous" to watch HBO win with shows that have a far smaller audience than broadcast fare.

"It's not that cable series aren't as important," the exec said. "They are. But look how much HBO spent on 'The Pacific,' like $200 million. It is preposterous this [Emmy] show deals so much with forms dominated by HBO and a few others. It slows down the show and is not particularly relevant to what is going on right now in the rest of television."

The broadcaster wants the Emmys to evolve in the same way that the Grammys and Tonys have -- becoming as much about entertainment as kudos.

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"We spend an hour giving awards to shows very few watch," he said. "What the networks are saying to the TV Academy is: 'You want your movies and miniseries? Do them on cable because they aren't what broadcast TV is about.' "

He also spoke of resentment about the move of the Emmy for reality show host to the Creative Arts Emmys, which take place a week before the primetime event.

"You give all these awards to 'Temple Grandin,' which was watched by a million people," he said, "but the reality show hosts -- the guy from 'Dancing With the Stars,' the guy from 'American Idol' and the guy from 'Survivor' watched by many millions -- are put off to the week before."

The broadcaster also didn't endorse expanding the "wheel" of broadcasters carrying the Emmys to include cable networks. He said the show belongs on a platform that can reach the most people, and that means broadcast.

Meanwhile, an exec at another pay service also said a split is justified. He noted that other cable and pay TV competitors are series-oriented, and none can compete with HBO on spending, development resources or promotion.

"I loved 'The Pacific,' but when they got to (longform awards), it was like all of a sudden the show stopped dead in its tracks," he said. "I just think it would be a better show without 40 minutes of HBO competing with itself."

An analysis of the show's ratings by quarter-hour shows a decline during Sunday's longform section.

The TV Academy declined comment until a new license is in place. That might take a while. There was a preliminary meeting involving the four major broadcasters and ATAS in early August, but no talks are scheduled.

More than a year ago, there was an effort to move some non-acting categories to the Creative Arts Emmys, especially those for writers and directors. But the talent guilds balked, and the proposed changes were rescinded. The guilds hold sway because they must approve any clips used in the Emmy show.

If the guilds as expected use their clout to keep all the awards on a single Emmy show, that could keep HBO in the game.