TV Academy President on Membership Dip, Rules Changes and How Emmys FYC Will Work (EXCLUSIVE)

The Emmy “For Your Consideration” season is back. A year after the Television Academy put a halt to officially sanctioned campaign events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, network and studio execs met this week to participate in a lottery that would determine dates for this year’s crush of mostly virtual FYC events.

The Academy has put together a new crop of rules to manage this year’s campaign events, which will take place between March 15 and June 16 (the day before nomination voting begins). In an exclusive wide-ranging conversation with Variety, TV Academy President/COO Maury McIntyre said the response has been overwhelming — and took his team by surprise.

“Based on the responses we’re getting, it’s the biggest FYC season we will have,” McIntyre told Variety. “Clearly we won’t be having [normal in-person] events. We just don’t feel that, no matter what happens with vaccines, we’re going to be in a position to bring a whole lot of people together. But we will be having FYC season programming…that’s a feeling of normalcy coming back, even if it’s virtual.”

McIntyre also revealed that in the wake of the pandemic, the TV Academy’s membership level (which had previously grown to around 25,000) has dipped by 5,000 over the past year, likely due to pandemic-related job losses, and other effects of the recent dramatic shifts and downsizing in the industry. McIntyre also addressed concerns about recent Emmy rule changes — in particular, the decision to re-merge the variety talk and variety sketch series categories, which has raised the ire of some who feel shows like “Saturday Night Live” shouldn’t face off with late night talkers like “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Plus, he confirmed that this year’s eligibility and voting schedule isn’t expected to change. And he waded into the increasingly murky question of TV vs. film awards eligibility, as it becomes less clear in these platform agnostic times.

The Academy scored strong marks for its semi-virtual Emmys telecast, hosted by Kimmel, last September, after what was perhaps the most unusual year on record for the awards campaign (or really, anything). Most winners are just now getting their Emmy statues, which the org admits is several weeks later than expected — but getting all of those trophies fitted with the proper names and plaques was a monumental task, they said. (Normally, winners take the Emmys on stage and get their names engraved at the Governors Ball.)

But now, with the 2021 Emmy campaign about to get under way, here’s how this year’s For Your Consideration events will work: Networks and studios will have the option of doing drive-in (with strict COVID protocols, such as guests not being allowed to leave their cars) or virtual events — which can be either live-streamed or pre-taped.

“We were thinking maybe we’d have 100 or so, but instead we’ve had over 300 properties interested in doing events,” McIntyre said. “We were a little surprised when we got such an overwhelming response so we immediately had to relook at the calendar.”

Given the demand, the Academy will sanction four programs per day: Two at 5 p.m. and two at 7 p.m. on weekdays, and two at 2 p.m. and two at 7 p.m. on weekends. Because of the extra effort required to administer livestreams, only one event at a time can go live (the other will have to be pre-taped) — and there will be no livestreams at all on Fridays or Saturdays.

“I actually think this is freeing up a lot of our partners who might not have normally done an FYC event,” McIntyre said. “Quite honestly, these days, if you want to do a pre-recorded event, you just got to get your director, writer, showrunner and a couple of your talents on a zoom call, hit record and you’ve got an FYC event.”

Each Academy-sanctioned FYC event will require a $5,000 fee, which goes toward event administration and invites, McIntyre said. Livestreams will cost another $2,500. The Academy is also offering its Wolf Theater facilities for rent, sans audience, of course, for $17,500 if talent is in person or $7,500 if talent is being beamed in remotely. (The org will waive that $2,500 livestream fee if the theater is rented.)

Meanwhile, the Academy will allow virtual events to offer a $30 digital food credit to attendees toward the use of services like Grubhub or Door Dash. For drive-in events, the combined cost of food and any gifts cannot exceed $30. Nothing is allowed to be sent to attendees’ homes by the networks and studios.

“We wanted there to be parity across the virtual events,” McIntyre said. “You can’t send a tchotchke to the membership from a virtual event. It just gets into too many issues with addresses and personal identifiable information and getting those tchotchkes to the individuals. I think we’re looking more at, if you’re giving something away for a virtual event it probably has to be given virtually in the form of redeemable code.”

The FYC events will live on the Television Academy’s Emmy screener portal, but the org is also discussing with networks and studios ways to allow them to share these events on their own platforms, and for audiences beyond Academy membership, after the fact.

Meanwhile, a year after the org officially implemented its no-DVD screener policy, the Television Academy has refined its rules to stipulate no mailers of any kind. Whereas last year, networks and studios had the option of mailing a physical booklet or send an email directing members to screeners, this year that booklet must be digital as well.

“We just found that there’s no reason to send an actual physical booklet anymore,” McIntyre said. “People are used to getting digital, so if you want to send a booklet you can but it needs to be a digital booklet.”

In another change, the org will now allow multiple emails to members: One per month between March and June. But in order to send an email, first your screening site has to be ready. “The sooner you can get your site up, the more emails that you can send,” he said. “So, you don’t get your site up until May, well then you get an email in May and June. But if your site’s up and people can start watching in March, we really want to encourage them to start watching [sooner] because it does look like there’s still just as much content this year.”

Here’s more from our chat with McIntyre:

Will there be any sort of movement of eligibility windows or the calendar, or is that all set in stone?

I don’t want to ever say that it’s completely set in stone, as we have no idea what’s going to happen next month. But we are not seeing necessarily any trends or shifts or areas of concern that would cause us at this point to change the eligibility period. We’re certainly seeing a wealth of content that’s already available. And so there seems to be a sense that, we’re not going to have the same issue where a lot of productions got delayed because of the pandemic and won’t be able to finish. Quite frankly last year, we allowed you to have an extra month, to get your shows in and it didn’t necessarily matter because those shows couldn’t have come back anyway. So, at this point, I think that we’ll probably stick with the eligibility as it is.

Last year, the Academy introduced a new methodology in which the number of a category’s nominees depended on how many programs were entered. That led to some categories expanding and others shrinking. Will there be changes to that this year?

I think that we are still kind of evaluating that. We look at our rules all the time. We set up a new system last year in terms of how the rules are looked at, a new awards committee replacing the old one; it’s an elected body that’s charged with looking at the rules to try to figure out across the board. Where is there inequity, or where do we need to address parity issues? How do we make sure that we are elevating the Emmy constantly and always maintaining relevance?

And one of the issues we looked at was how a nomination is kind of different depending on which category you’re in. For supporting actor in a drama, you were one out of 400, if you get nominated. For other categories you were one out of 20. We thought that we needed to have a bit of a way to expand and contract, based on how many entries we have. And that’s why we came up with the nomination by category number that we went out with last year. At this point I think that we will continue to look at it. We’ve already announced our rules changes and we did not change that one, so I don’t foresee that we would for this year. But clearly we will continue to monitor and evaluate that. Any time we make a major change like that we want to make sure that we agree with what is happening and get the results.

I think the biggest concern we’ve heard this year is the decision to put talk and sketch back together. There was rumbling that a letter was being drafted by members to express their concerns. What sort of communication have you had with the folks from that world?

We haven’t at this point. I would say, we knew that change would come with hard decisions that wouldn’t necessarily make everyone happy. But our goal as always, is to really maintain both the relevance and the prestige of the Emmy brand. Some of that also had to do with, how many submissions you have. We are always open to having conversations with the industry, our partners, the studios, the networks, our members, if they are having concerns about a decision we’ve made. We want to discuss it, we are absolutely open to that dialogue. And you know there are a number of changes that have happened in the rules over the years that have happened because of that. There are a number of reversals that we’ve made over the years.

Movies and miniseries were split, then merged, then split again. And this year you also sent the children’s category to NATAS. Are you in a little bit of an awkward position with this, however, since the talk show hosts who are impacted are also the ones who mostly host the Emmys?

We want to have this dialogue. We’re happy to have this with them if they have concerns. We haven’t specifically heard these concerns raised to us so it’s really hard for me to comment on that. Again, similar to the miniseries/movie thing, this is actually the way the category was for a large portion of the last two decades. It was just a variety category, talk and sketch were together. So it’s not that this is an unheard-of proposition, and all of the categories underneath were always still combined. But we absolutely understand that there are concerns and will have that conversation when it comes to it.

Some of the concern came out of how it was announced; no one seemed to know this was on the table.

We don’t generally go out and discuss a lot of our rules changes with the general industry in advance of making them. I think at that point you might open yourself up a little bit to rules change by massive committee of 300,000 in the television industry. There are times I would say that, yes, we do go before we make a big decision and talk to some of the impacted players in the business just to get a feel for what’s going on and then there are times that these things come up in the room and they get decided on very quickly. I will say that we tend to not feel it is appropriate necessarily to always go there to the members to ask, especially on the really hard ones. The hardest ones really are when we think we may need to combine something or we think we may need to lose a category. It’s just human nature going to a peer group and saying, “You know what, we don’t think you need that category anymore.” I can almost guarantee you, they’re going to tell me “No, that’s not true.”

Another big initiative is a membership vetting that will move inactive members to a non-voting, associate membership. How is that process going?

We continue to do that in a phased approach, rolling out over four years. So, last year we did a quarter of the membership, this year we do another quarter of the membership. I think it has improved the feeling amongst the industry that the voters really are the people who should be voting on this. That the Emmy is really being chosen by people who have the qualifications, the qualities, the authority to vote on the award. We started that right before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic kind of automatically added its own bit of winnowing down. And so, a number of the people that might have been voted down to associate, non-voting naturally filtered themselves out because if you’re not in the industry working, you’re not really going to be paying.

Has there been a noticeable decline in membership?

Our rough numbers when we started before the pandemic was over 25,000, and now we’re at 20,000. We saw a pretty big decrease attributable to how many major corporations announced layoffs in the thousands. It’s something we’re going to be looking at this year. We want to be sensitive to the industry too, like this is not a time where I want to be pounding the pavement to say, “Hey, I know you’re just now able to go the grocery store but come on back as a member.” We want to grow back. We want to make sure that we’re doing that responsibly and really hearing the needs of the members.

How are the conversations with CBS, in terms of this year’s Emmy telecast?

We’re just getting started. They had to move the Grammys because of what was going on with the pandemic. We’re going to have a few more in the coming weeks. They also have the Super Bowl on Sunday so I know they’re a little focused on that right now. I think the big question clearly is what is it going to be. And I don’t think anyone is prepared to answer that right now because again, we don’t know how we’ll be and where we’ll be in vaccinations. Let’s do what planning we can. And I think the biggest planning, of course, is going to probably be finding the producer first and then go from there.

The TV Academy has closed most of the loopholes that allowed some contenders, mostly in the documentary space, to double dip in Oscar and Emmy. How’s the conversation with the Motion Picture Academy been going in figuring out eligibility when everyone’s watching everything at home?

We absolutely are having conversations; one of the things this year that we wanted to very firmly show was support for them. They have gone through a really difficult time. They didn’t have theaters for people to be released in. So we wanted to be able to say, “Look, the Motion Picture Academy has said this is what’s going to qualify you, and we support them.” Even knowing that many of those films have never gone into a theater, and might be considered streaming. The doc category is always a little more challenging. There are so many players in the documentary space that need a theatrical release to market the film and get those dollars to actually do the doc, which then shows on television. We have tried to close the loopholes. But the rule that’s clear to us is if you pay to be on their viewing platform, that means you are a movie.

Of course, other awards shows are confusing things too. You’ve got “Hamilton” nominated as a film at the Golden Globes and nominated as a TV project at SAG.

My understanding is that the Motion Picture Academy has already ruled that “Hamilton” is not eligible for the Oscar competition, which means because they would be eligible in the Emmy category for variety special. The Los Angeles film critics named “Small Axe” as their number one? OK. We’re happy to have “Small Axe” be in the Emmy competition, it’s a phenomenal piece of work. It’s going to be eligible in the limited series/anthology category.

I will tell you that I look at the landscape and I see a whole lot of television movies out there or what I would consider television films. There are a lot of movies being made by the streamers. I think it’s going to be more a question of, how do you distinguish what’s a television movie versus what is a theatrical movie.

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