Deadline TV contributor Diane Haithman files this report:

Let the countdown to the Emmys begin. That is, if the TV Academy can stop blurring what’s a final, final, final deadline for Emmy submissions. As of May 31, 2011, all TV programs should have been submitted to the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences for nomination consideration for the 2011 Emmy Awards. Programs airing between June 20, 2010, and May 31, 2011, are eligible for submission. An exception is made for series that have new episodes airing between May 31 and June 24, 2011, which are also eligible. And since there’s no downside to entering their own show -– or, for that matter, themselves in an individual category –- almost everybody does it. The nominations will be announced July 14. “It’s important to be on the ballot,” says John Leverence, the TV Academy’s VP of Awards. “It is reviewed by more than 14,000 members of the Academy. These are your industry peers, even if you are doing a show that might not have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

But “all TV programs” does not mean “all TV episodes.” For two of Emmy’s highest-profile categories, Drama Series and Comedy Series, there is a lot of wiggle room timewise. All that was required on April 29, 2011, was a submission of the series as a “body of work” by its title. DVDs of the actual episodes to be considered for the series award — six episodes per show — did not have to be submitted until May 13, meaning that many producers spent an additional few weeks in the agonizing process of choosing their best work.

And, if any of the six episodes chosen by the producer is airing after May 13, all the TV Academy asks is that the DVD of the missing episode be sent in as soon as it has aired. Until May 31, series producers may yank an episode or episodes from the chosen six and replace them with something else. But there is yet another window for changing the episode selections just prior to the actual nominations announcement, which includes the chosen series but not the episode choices. Then that’s it for artistic indecision. “We need the choices by the time of the nomination announcement because we have to make a very fast turnaround to replicate thousands of DVDs for the Blue Ribbon [final judging] panelists,” explains Julie Shore, the TV Academy’s Director of Prime Time Emmy Awards.

The TV Academy instructs voters to make selections on the merits of one program or set of episodes. “I think to the outside world it looks like an objective evaluation of quality, but it’s not,” insists Mike Schur, showrunner for the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, which he created with Greg Daniels and which has yet to win an Emmy. ”It’s about trends, and what gets hot, and what’s on the magazine cover at the right time.”

Which is why it pays not to wait too long for Emmy aspirants to make their episode choices. Deciding early gets their “For Your Consideration” screener packages together into the hands of their voting peers that much sooner to build awareness that could translate into a nomination.

Since mid-March, via the TV Academy’s mailing house, early birds have been sending out screeners. There’s also the “green” option of uploading material to a password-protected website for membership viewing. Producers, distributors, studios, broadcast networks and cable channels also may set up screenings at the Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters. “Ultimately, the problem is that that the people who are voting –- and I can guarantee this because I’m one of them — haven’t seen every episode of every show,” notes Schur.

Showrunners insist that dreams of Emmy rarely enter the writers’ rooms. “We are much too superstitious for that,” says John Wells, WGAW president and executive producer with Christopher Chulack of the TNT police drama Southland and showrunner for Showtime’s first-season series Shameless. “With Southland, we submitted the strongest episodes we thought we had made this year. And that’s a collective decision. In all the years I’ve been doing this, there has never been any major disagreement on what our strongest episodes were. You are looking for something very typical for somebody who doesn’t watch the show on a regular basis.””

Selecting episodes was easier for Shameless, Wells explains: “On new shows, we often submit the pilot episodes because they introduce you to all the characters and give you a real sense of what the show is.”

Producers used to create those hokey “very special episodes” of comedy series for sweeps ratings periods. (TV insiders still joke about those ridiculous NBC ads for “A Very Special Blossom …”) Hardly any now. Notes Wells: “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find the ‘very special episode’ of Modern Family, or the ‘very special episode’ of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. They’d have to make fun of themselves doing it.”

As late as April, Parks and Recreation’s Schur was still waiting for a specific episode to air in order to evaluate audience reaction before deciding to add it to the show’s series submission. The April 28 episode, titled “Jerry’s Painting,” was about a character creating a painting for public display that depicts a topless centaur goddess who looks an awful lot like series lead Amy Poehler. Besides a provocative premise — notes Schur, “I mean, it has a giant painting of our star as a naked centaur” — the show was a “supersized” episode paired with NBC’s Emmy-winning The Office (created by Daniels, with Schur on the creative team). Since both half-hour sitcoms ran over their usual lengths to create 1 1/2 hours of TV, Schur says they shot more material than they needed and then created a “balsamic reduction to the best most delicious comedy.”

Schur also says he follows this Emmy strategy in choosing the episodes to submit: “Generally, the later they are in the year, the more likely voters are to remember them. If it’s a tie between the second episode or the 21st, I’ll usually pick the 21st.”

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