Emmy's timing falls short for some

September awards don't help shows with rating struggles

Saturday, September 18, 2004

— Each year, January and February bring an escalating rush of red-carpet excitement with the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Oscars.

Then comes September and little orphan Emmy.


AP Photo

Prime-time stars will fill the seats Sunday at the 56th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Production staff prepared Friday for the show, which will air at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

Intended to serve as the standard-bearer for the opening of the fall TV season, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awards are far removed from the convergent frenzy of other Hollywood self-love pageants.

But what if Emmy's isolation ended? After all, the traditional fall-to-spring TV season has been declared passe by at least one broadcast network and is little observed by cable channels.

Could an earlier Emmy ceremony juice viewership, which last year measured just under 18 million? That's compared with nearly 27 million viewers for this year's Golden Globes and 43 million-plus for the Oscars.

For actors, the shift from Los Angeles' typically sizzling September to a cooler month amounts to a health and safety issue.

"At that time of year, it's 4 in the afternoon in Los Angeles and it's 98 degrees and they're sweating in their tuxedos," observed analyst Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group.

Most importantly, a springtime awards show could benefit worthy but ratings-challenged shows that need a boost.

"Emmys have a noble history of saving shows," said Tom O'Neil, author of "The Emmys" and host of GoldDerby.com, an awards prediction Web site.

"All in the Family" was mired in the ratings cellar after it debuted in January 1971. The Emmys were in the spring that year and the sitcom received the best comedy series award as well as the best new series trophy (no longer given) and went on to become an invaluable part of America's culture.

This Sunday, when the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are held (airing at 7 p.m. on ABC), the critically lauded yet low-rated Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" could be the beneficiary of Emmy largesse.

After evading cancellation, its best comedy series bid could draw audience attention to its charms.

More than a few series canceled in May, when the fall schedules are announced, have enjoyed the empty honor of an Emmy nomination in July.

Some in the industry are open to the idea of an Emmy makeover.

"I do think the awards cycles for TV will have to change in order to match the new reality of what's happening on television," said filmmaker Gregory Nava, whose "American Family: Journey of Dreams" is a miniseries nominee.

He and PBS rushed production of the drama for a marathon showing so it would air within the eligibility period ending May 31. It had debuted in the spring to avoid the fall crunch.

The academy's rules "are set for the way things used to be and that's obviously changing," Nava said.

But many observers contend both TV's autumn rebirth and the September Emmys are entrenched for now.

"In all honesty, we're going to have fall seasons," said Katz Television Group's Carroll. "That's the way advertisers buy."