Skip to main content

After Further Review: Emmy’s John Shaffner Reflects

Another year, another Emmys telecast, and with it came the hits (the upset wins!) and the inevitable misses (those Emmytones). John Shaffner, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chairman who is finishing up his second two-year term, spoke with B&C Staff Writer Andrea Morabito about what he felt did and didn’t work in this year’s show. An edited transcript follows.

Did you read the reviews of the show, and did you think they were fair?

The reviews reflect in many ways the expectations and the mindsets of the reviewers. And as much as I admire and understand that a television critic and a reviewer has to, in theory, look at the big picture, and has looked at all different kinds of TV and appreciates things for what they are, they still come to the party, and we all come to the party, with certain expectations. Some things cannot always exceed everyone’s expectations. I think our reviews have been all over the place, to tell you the truth. I think we’ve had some really positive ones throughout, and obviously we’ve had some [reviewers who] were a little off-put by the bouncing around of the material and some of the subject matter.

Tell me the back story on the Charlie Sheen appearance.

When [the Television Academy] learned of his appearance on the show…we were deeply concerned that Charlie’s behavior [wouldn’t] be appropriate to our telecast. Obviously, when you’re doing a live show you’re very, very concerned that the behavior would reflect appropriately on the telecast. We expressed our deepest concerns to [Emmys producer Mark] Burnett and to the leadership at Fox. They were very confident that Charlie would deliver a respectable presentation, and they really strongly felt that this was an important part of this year, especially last year, of television, and that if he was willing and able to come back and do this in a proper manner, they were insistent that it would be a good part of the show. And I think that everyone who watched the show has their own opinion of how successful that was, and I will let everyone draw their own conclusions.

So you’re not going to say if you thought it ended up being appropriate or not?

On a telecast basis, did it succeed to the extent that they were hopeful to? I don’t think it served the purpose as successfully as it had been hoped to. It couldn’t help but perhaps upstage some of the other work that was being done. This sounds really terrible, but it was much more of a yawn in many respects, because he was there, he said his speech, he left. I think that’s the final story—the anticipation of something being really TV-great—was kind of met by the audience with sort of a yawn.

Two other things that stuck out—with differing rates of success—were the Emmytones choir and the lead comedy actresses’ stage rush. Whose idea were those bits, and did they play out as planned?

When you’re thinking of a show like this, you’ve got lots and lots of ideas. And you nurse them along to see which ones are going to make it. It’s like sprinkling seeds and seeing which sprouts are going to take hold. The Emmytones was kind of a sprout that took hold, and then it grew enough, but it maybe wasn’t the perfect plant for the rest of the garden because in many ways it was a non sequitur to the evening. It referenced a historical kind of aspect of TV— when jingles were a lot of television—and so you would ask yourself, what is it? And in terms of the performers and the people who did the work, I think they gave it their whole heart and soul. I think it’s a challenge to introduce the concept of the year in review, but I think sometimes we might have lost track of that a little bit, that that’s what they were doing.

In terms of the comedy, the ladies, Amy Poehler had a lot to do with it because she is just so much fun. When you start thinking about doing something like this, everyone becomes a little fearful. With the caliber of the people who engage in a bit, as we used to call it, you know that it’s going to succeed. I think it was so cool to see them together because that’s when you really looked and went “Oh my—the talent.” It was a real test on the improvisational skills of each one of those ladies, and Melissa handled it beautifully. And it’s because they were having fun, we had fun.

What rule changes are being considered? Will we see an expansion of awards in the reality genre because that now represents such a large percentage of programming?

What we’re thinking about is looking at the whole universe there. Have we distributed the awards properly, do we have the right categories that reflect the work? We shifted so many of the awards into what we’re calling special-class now. Maybe we need to review how many awards shows there are on TV. Should we separate that more cleanly away from other kinds of live telecasts, for example? We don’t want to expand the number of awards particularly; we will if there’s a real necessity. But I think it’s more a review of that universe to see if we are making a contest that makes sense to people.

The show went with the very heavy "Hallelujah" for the "In Memoriam" segment. Has the Academy considered going with a celebratory song choice rather than a sad one?

Mark really set out to find material that he thought would be more upbeat and simultaneously two things are happening: the four members of the show committee along with Mr. Burnett's company were reviewing the names that started out on our "In Memoriam" list. And in the meantime, Mark and his company was looking for material and music that they felt would go with it and Mark, honest to God, admits it 100 percent, he did an about-turn as he started seeing the editing come together and realizing the "In Memoriam" package. He thought, I think I want to go with something that's a little more serious. Over the years, I think we've settled on a comfortable place. We've done this underscoring with live performances for quite a few years now and sometimes the music is more right on than others. I think it's good and appropriate for us to sometimes take that moment of reflection and have a little pause because then you can bounce back with something that's funny and it's part of what it all should be.

E-mail comments to and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito