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Show creators love a Daytime Emmy expansion -- but not everyone is pleased just to be nominated

Television audiences might be shrinking, but the National Television Academy would like to make a case for growth.

For the past several years, the NTA, which is set to hold its 34th annual Daytime Emmy Awards on June 15 at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, has found more and more reasons to give out more and more Emmys, from Spanish-language programming to original content. Certainly, it's a bid to raise the Daytime Emmys' profile and give the ceremony the cachet and visibility of its better-known primetime counterpart, but it also is a forward-thinking attempt at widening the circle of both TV creators and viewers.

This year promises more of the same. Last year's inaugural multimedia award has become a full-fledged five categories: entertainment, news and documentary, public and community service, sports and national student television. Additionally, the NTA is providing a platform for broadband submissions at a site called MyEmmy (www.myspace.com/myemmy), the result of a partnership with the online community MySpace.

"We thought it was a great way to find new talent and bring it over to the Emmy portal," NTA president and CEO Peter Price says. "Award shows -- whatever awards they are -- mirror our industry, and our industry is expanding in the number of people and types of
programs participating. We are a mirror of our industry."

Such action, however, is not without a reaction. The five-category multimedia expansion has raised the ire of the NTA's West Coast counterpart, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (aka the Television Academy), which organizes the Primetime Emmys. (The two were once a single organization but split over perceived regional biases in the 1950s.) The Television Academy claimed that its 1977 contract with the NTA prevented any change to the awards dynamic without the consent of both academies. The case is now in arbitration.

"I gather their concern is that we're moving too fast," Price says. According to a Television Academy spokesman, the organization believed that the original broadband award introduced last year was intended to recognize technical achievement. This year, however, the awards clearly aim to recognize creative content alongside technical elements.

This isn't the first dispute between the coasts. In 2002, the NTA attempted to establish another Emmy awards program exclusively for Hispanic programming. The Television Academy complained about not being consulted, and the program's progress was halted. Over the past year, the NTA has revisited the idea of Hispanic Emmys, much to its West Coast counterpart's chagrin. Feathers also have been ruffled on both sides because the NTA only assigns a single Emmy award to each category, requiring additional winners to purchase their statuettes. This year, the Television Academy is covering the cost of Daytime Emmy statuettes won by its members.

The NTA has been developing the Daytime Emmys in other ways, too. The telecast, which is scheduled to air on CBS as part of a rotating contract with ABC that expires this year, includes a new award for morning programs. While segments from some of those shows have been nominated for the NTA's News and Documentary Emmys, to date none of the awards shows have honored the programs in their entireties. For this inaugural year, the category has received eight entries.

"It's essentially designed to include programs like (ABC's) 'Good Morning America' and (NBC's) 'The Today Show,'" NTA executive director of daytime Brent Stanton says. "We feel that (morning shows) are a major part of television." In fact, "GMA," "Today" and the syndicated "Live With Regis and Kelly" are this year's nominees in the morning TV programming category.

The morning show award serves as a reminder that the Daytime Emmys are intended to acknowledge the quality of all daytime network programming, not just soap operas, which typically dominate the nominations. Like those of the soaps themselves, the Daytime Emmys' ratings have declined in recent years. Despite last year's ceremony being held in Hollywood rather than New York for the first time, the telecast drew 20% fewer viewers than 2005's -- the program's smallest audience since it began airing in primetime. This year, CBS hopes to change that by moving the Daytime Emmys from its previous slot in early May to the more promising early-June berth on the summer side of sweeps.

"I think the date is probably the greatest variable in the equation," Price says. "The venue and producers are the same. CBS is every bit as good as ABC." But Price attributes the diminished audience to a larger phenomenon. "Given the way ratings are moving these days, it's usually down rather than up," he says.

Meanwhile, soap operas have strategies of their own that are intended to combat an ongoing slide in viewership numbers, and they're also looking to a post-TV future. Last year, CBS' "Guiding Light" began making podcasts of individual episodes available to viewers so they didn't have to watch the show in order to keep up with its story line.

Executive producer Ellen Wheeler, who pioneered the show's podcasts, hopes to continue the involvement of digital media in the show's future. "Part of what has kept ('Light') going for 70 years is that it's constantly been in the forefront of changing with the technology," Wheeler says. "It's not so much what we can offer to our fans as much as how we can make our fans a part of what we do."

This year, Wheeler has advanced the show's multimedia content with the addition of online-only webisodes. While the new feature started too recently to be eligible for this year's broadband Emmys, she says that the plan is to submit them for next year's awards.
Nominees in other long-standing Daytime Emmy categories also demonstrate a progressive streak. Discovery Kids' documentary "A Year on Earth," nominated in the children/youth/family special category, follows high school students traveling the world for environmental causes; it benefited from extensive online content during production that enabled viewers to track the progress of the students involved. "As an organization, we're still looking at having a strong broadband presence so that any of our expeditions can come to our site, download clips and get excited about our work," Earthwatch Institute president and CEO Ed Wilson says (Earthwatch sponsored the trip featured in the docu).

The burst of interest in digital expansion has resulted in a unique experience for independent developers involved solely in producing online content, including some of the nominees from last year. "There's a certain structure to the type of awards that have been handed out before," explains Orrin Zucker, who produces the online episodic cartoon "It's JerryTime!" (www.itsjerrytime.com) with his brother Jerry. "JerryTime!" was nominated for last year's solo broadband award (it lost to AOL's "Live 8" concert broadcasts). The brothers say that Emmy committees have consulted with them regarding the inclusion of online content in the awards.

"The emergence of the Internet as a distinct and rapidly growing art form definitely does defy any kind of award that they'd like to hand out," Jerry Zucker adds, pointing out that he understands the Television Academy's trepidation about the abundance of honors for online work.

But Orrin Zucker thinks that the Television Academy is overreacting. "When you're competing head-to-head with something, things with bigger budgets have a huge (advantage)," he says. "I don't think they have to worry about Web entertainment dominating the Emmys."

CBS has kept a close watch on multimedia developments. "Watching the show should be your primary source of entertainment,"CBS senior vp daytime programs Barbara Bloom says.

Overall, Bloom says that she regards the Emmys as an "added bonus" but not the network's primary goal. "It's icing on the cake," she says.

NTA organizers don't plan to change all aspects of their programs: They still maintain their lifetime achievement awards. This year, there will be two such honors, one given to soap opera producer and former talk show host Lee Phillip Bell (see related story on page 40) and the other to Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton. At press time, Lipton was slated to receive his award during the Daytime Emmy Creative Arts & Entertainment Awards on June 14, while Bell's presentation status had not been determined. The academies annually rotate the responsibility of choosing the recipients.

Other than the lifetime achievement recipients, this year's winners will have at least some semblance of a relationship to digital media, since ballots were e-mailed to academy members for the first time to date. "Like everyone else, we're moving away from paper to electronic transmission," Price says. "We're about half the way."