On July 18, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 27th annual News and Documentary Emmys—150 production teams, some consisting of more than 30 people. This year, the awards are more exclusive than ever: Under its new one-statue policy, the academy will provide the winning team in each category with only one trophy.
Unless, that is, the team chooses to buy more.
Call ’em the Scammies!
The most coveted prize in TV news is, in fact, easy to come by. It just takes cash. For $350 a pop, any member of the winning news teams can pick up a supplemental trophy. Given the size of the nominated crews, that can mean a dozen or more statues in each of the 29 Emmy categories. Everybody gets a prize—and the academy gets thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.
“It’s a victimless crime,” said former CBS News president and Emmy judge Andrew Heyward. Reluctant to appear ungrateful, Mr. Heyward hastened to add: “This is not an Abramoff-type scandal we’re talking about here. Of course it is not an actual crime.”
Years ago, the academy gave free statues to all the winners. In recent years, it had cut the maximum down to five.
“We noticed there was some inflation of the roster of team members last year,” academy president Peter Price said. “In one of our awards ceremonies, one of the teams included 46 people. That was a little bit over the top.”
This year’s nominations tilted heavily toward Hurricane Katrina and Iraq. PBS, the perennial front-runner, led with 33 nominations; the Discovery Times Channel, Hallmark, Showtime and Univision brought up the rear with one apiece. NBC had 19 nominations, CBS 16 and ABC 14. With the Web gaining prominence as a video-delivery system, nytimes.com edged out washingtonpost.com, three to two.
Who knows how many statues those nominations will produce? Last year, in the Outstanding Live Coverage of a Breaking News Story—Long Form category, NBC won for its coverage of the death and funeral of Ronald Reagan—an honor that covered the work of 22 different people.
Emmy-glomming is a longstanding industry tradition. TV is a collaborative process, and it is rarely perfectly clear who worked on a particular story long enough or hard enough to merit a spot on the application. Sometimes considerable politicking goes into the preparation of the entry forms, each of which requires extensive paperwork, a two-page essay and a $300 fee.
“At a show like Dateline, for example, they have to decide which of 500 segments they’re going to enter in a given year,” said Paul Sparrow, an Emmy-winning producer and an executive at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. “A lot of that is political. Which producer is in favor right now? Which correspondent on the upswing? I know that there are times when the producers have to pay for the entries themselves because the networks chose to nominate someone else.”
Mr. Price said that network nominating committees have a tendency of “trying to be broadminded” when filling out the applications. The one-statue policy was meant to curb that urge.
But the lure of the statue—designed, according to official literature, by Louis McManus, an engineer at Culver City’s Cascade Pictures and modeled on his wife, Dorothy—is hard to resist.
“Here’s the thing about the Emmys,” said John Reiss, the executive producer of the NBC Nightly News: “You don’t have to explain them to anyone. Theoretically, the Peabodys are much more prestigious. But tell somebody you won a Peabody or a Dupont, even, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s nice. Pass the salad, please.’”
Mr. Reiss has won five Emmys, “which in the world of Emmys is a paltry sum,” he said. Four of the five he deserved, he said, and one was what he calls a “drive-by Emmy,” meaning he did nothing to earn it other than “work that day and get my name on the application.” He stores them on the floor of a guest bedroom in his home, which is permissible under the strict and unspoken conventions of network TV.
Peter Jennings, for instance, kept his Emmys strategically on view in his office bathroom. Diane Sawyer has 11 Emmys, but no one at ABC News has ever seen them. Walter Cronkite hid all but two of his 10. Edward R. Murrow stored his nine in a box in the attic and eventually, it is said, just threw them out.
“I have 12,” said Mr. Heyward. “They’re tucked away where you’re only likely to run into them if you’re foraging in the storage room for a misplaced book or an old piece of electronic equipment.” Later in the conversation, he remembered he actually has 13.
ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge reputedly insisted on being included on every application his network submitted. He thereby accumulated a staggering 36 Emmys, which, departing from protocol, he kept in a display case right behind his desk. Former ABC producer Neal Shapiro remembered being called into Mr. Arledge’s office after Mr. Shapiro had decided to leave for NBC, where he would eventually become president of the news division.
“As Roone’s talking to me, telling me it’s a big mistake to go to NBC, the sun’s streaming in, and there’s this Emmy glow behind Roone,” he said. “He lit up like Zeus.”
The broadcast networks set aside significant amounts of money every year to apply and pay for awards dinners. Individual figures vary, but a single magazine show can spend upward of $10,000, said three producers, one from each network. Those ample sums are accompanied by extensive griping about the vagaries of the judging process, which is done by many volunteers, not all of them pillars in the industry, who are not required to screen each entry in its entirety.
Mr. Sparrow, who has judged many times, offered a defense: “The people watching those entries are trying to do a good job,” he said. “Sometimes politics come into it. ‘Oh, another story on the Holocaust’—that kind of thing.” Still, the judges struggle to be fair. “In two or three minutes, you know whatever this is a piece of junk or a really good segment,” he said.
Mr. Price, on top of his statue-limiting measures, has earned good marks from television executives for his efforts to even out the judging process. As to the price of the awards, he said, “it’s a big résumé item. If you are eligible for an Emmy and it was $7,500, you’d probably still want to buy it. It’s an important credential. It beats the Kiwanis Club of Bismarck, N.D.”
As proof of the value of an Emmy, he recalled his first ceremony as president of the academy.
“I was looking over the table assignments for the awards,” said Mr. Price, a former publisher of the New York Post, who began his career as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He came across a table labeled “NYT”: “It was practically next to the kitchen. I said, ‘What’s this?’ Whoever was doing the seating had no idea what ‘NYT’ meant. I looked at the people at the table—Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Janet Robinson, Bill Keller—and I was like, ‘This is the bloody masthead of The New York Times! What are they doing here?”
Once he figured it out—The Times had been nominated for a 90-minute documentary called Bioterror, based on the reporting of William J. Broad, Stephen Engelberg and Judith Miller—he moved the “NYT” table as far forward as possible. “I couldn’t put it front and center,” he said, “but I did put it in the front row at the end, on the corner. It was one of the most miserable evenings of my life. The award they were up for was the very last one, and we didn’t get to it until 10:25 or so. The whole time I was thinking, ‘Please God, if you’re there, let them win.’”
They did. Mr. Price went to greet the Times people. In receiving the award, he said, they displayed none of the dismissive pretenses of their television counterparts.
“I came to congratulate them, and Arthur Sulzberger asked me if we could get the statue delivered as quickly as possible,” Mr. Price said, “so they could display it in the corridor with their Pulitzers.”