To sum up how the major television awards went down in 2011, it would be that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Voting for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences kept honoring AMC’s Mad Men and ABC’s Modern Family at the Primetime Emmys. Ushering in the new in November, the Academy’s Board of Governors elected Warner Bros Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum as its new Chairman/CEO. He’ll have to navigate invigorating the telecast for 2012 and beyond. The year also found some encouraging signs for the broadcast networks in terms of the Emmys. Just when it seemed that cable’s quality advantage had rendered ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox to a supporting role, the nets mounted a comeback in September. There were five wins for Modern Family; acting triumphs for comedy leads Jim Parsons of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and Melissa McCarthy of the same network’s Mike & Molly; Julianna Margulies’ lead drama actress triumph for CBS’s The Good Wife; and writing (Jason Katims) and acting (Kyle Chandler) victories for NBC’s departing Friday Night Lights. The latter also took Program of the Year honors from the Television Critics Association, not a group typically known for its sentimentality.
Elsewhere on the TV awards spectrum, the SAG Awards last January showed that it can do a little evolving of their own by featuring first-time winners in the top TV series categories for the first time in ages: ABC’s Modern Family and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Moreover, Modern Family was the first victor in a top category to be affiliated with AFTRA, heralding the dawn of new day. Is Hollywood ready for the SAG-AFTRA Awards? Are the unions themselves? Meanwhile, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association remained its idiosyncratic self. Not just with its TV choices at the 2011 Golden Globes, honoring Glee as top comedy for the second year running and voting for the Sundance Channel’s miniseries Carlos over a trio of far higher profile contenders on HBO. But with its invitation to Ricky Gervais to host a 3rd time following his 2011 slash-and-burn performance. Nominees for 69th Globes next month are heavy with new cable series like Showtime’s Homeland and Episodes, Starz’s Boss, HBO’s Enlightened and Game Of Thrones, FX’s American Horror Story. But light on established shows or anything from AMC (whose Mad Men, for example, didn’t have episodes during the qualifying period). Still the HFPA has a history of favoring buzzworthy new shows and performers to a fault. This year is hardly an exception, with seven of the 10 nominees for top comedy and drama in their first year of Globes eligibility.
But if things stayed reasonably stable on the awards front for the TV Academy and the HFPA this year, both organizations were caught up in
plenty of angst and tumult behind the scenes. The Academy spent the first four months of 2011 dragging out the process of locking in a new Emmy broadcast deal to replace the eight-year pact that would expire in September. It grew into a major issue as negotiations (or the lack of them) spanned nine months, leading to speculation that the Academy would be left scrambling and, at the end of the day, screwed. But outgoing chairman and CEO John Shaffner would have the last laugh anyway, landing a new 8-year Emmy telecast wheel deal with the four major broadcast networks for $66 million – an increase of $6 million over the previous pact. It surely represented a crowning achievement for Shaffner, given the continued tepid Emmy ratings and declining interest at the networks to keep broadcasting the ceremony at a loss. But as one TV producer observes, “At the end of the day, it comes down to pride. The networks had to step up to the plate and show that they support a group that honors the best in the business. They definitely couldn’t allow a cable network to snatch it away.”
Yet the happy ending was mitigated by the ongoing discussion, albeit off the record, about demoting the writing and directing categories to the less prestigious and lower profile Creative Arts Ceremony. The WGA and DGA have fought it and thus far won. But the feeling continues to be that they remain speed bumps in a ceremony that needs to reduce the cumbersome number of categories during the Primetime Emmycast. As for the awards themselves, Mad Men became both a big winner and big loser on Emmy night, losing out in every major category save for one: Outstanding Drama Series, its fourth consecutive win. In the lead drama actor category, Bryan Cranston of AMC’s Breaking Bad was ineligible so couldn’t four-peat. But it’s an anomaly when ReelzChannel not only earned 10 nominations for its controversial miniseries pickup The Kennedys – and then won four Emmys. After decades of awards success, HBO took it on the chin with its longform projects largely snubbed. And a rule change pared its movie and miniseries contenders from two categories down to just one. It was predictable given the declining number of longform originals being produced, yet still a deflating blow nonetheless for a once thriving genre.
Meanwhile, the TV Academy wrapped its year with Bruce Rosenblum’s surprise entry into its leadership race. His win over Academy veteran and Vice Chair Nancy Bradley Wiard for a two-year term was more surprising still. He’s the first high-powered executive to take the Academy’s reins since the pair of stints by Walt Disney Studios president Rich Frank in the 1980s and 1990s. It shows that the power players of the TV industry are motivated to take a more instrumental role in the Academy’s governance. Rosenblum has told Deadline that he’s looking to bring “fresh voices, a fresh vision and a broader perspective of what the Academy represents to its membership”. He and his fellow elected officers “are hoping to expand the opportunities for recognizing excellence, particularly in those areas where the TV business is growing and evolving. For its own viability, the Academy needs to evolve in a similar and parallel way to the evolution of our industry.”
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association spent much of the year both lighting and dousing various firestorms. There was that $2 million lawsuit filed in January by Michael Russell, the Golden Globes publicist for 17 years before being sent packing. Russell listed in his 35-page lawsuit filing multiple charges of corruption and fraud inside the HFPA, including the sale of media credentials and Red Carpet spots as well as allegations of bribes from studios in exchange for Globes nominations. After that, it was the HFPA’s turn to enter litigation, locking horns with Dick Clark Prods for the Globes’ TV rights after the organization claimed DCP didn’t have the authority to re-up with NBC to broadcast the ceremony through 2018 (a deal sealed in 2010). That trial is scheduled to begin next month just before the Globes ceremony this coming January 15. Arguably, that will be a trivial distraction compared to the show itself, which will be hosted by Ricky Gervais for the 3rd consecutive year. There was loud and divisive debate inside the HFPA over Gervais given his open contempt for Hollywood in general and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in particular. One of his jokes last time smacked then-HFPA president Philip Berk, who turned over control to Aida Takla-O’Reilly. Her challenge going into 2012 would be to make the HFPA more credible rather than the story.