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Battle Brews Over Latin Emmys

The bicoastal turf war between the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and its sister organization the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is heating up again over a planned Spanish-language Emmy Awards show.

New York-based NATAS is gunning to stage a Latin Emmy awards by mid 2003 and is ready to battle Hollywood-based ATAS over it. But ATAS, wary of diluting existing Emmy awards and offending the Hispanic community, wants more time to study options.

NATAS, under its new president Peter Price, will press an arbitrator to stop ATAS from delaying its plans and recruited legal ace David Boies to handle the dispute.

Under their 1977 partnership agreement, NATAS and ATAS have to both greenlight any new awards event. Price presented his Latin Emmy plans to the Los Angeles academy about six months ago and says that ATAS has had adequate time to mull over the idea. "Our request should not be unreasonably withheld," Price said. "We want to stage an awards show next year."

Countered Todd Leavitt, the new president of ATAS, "Six months doesn't mean we're dragging our heels."

New York-based NATAS puts on the daytime, news, local TV and sports Emmys; ATAS awards prime time Emmys from Hollywood.

NATAS was seeking to jointly stage a Latin Emmy event and received approval from its board in June. Price now says his organization would proceed alone, but he needs ATAS's backing or an arbitrator to rule in his favor. "We just haven't heard from [ATAS] on exactly what they want," Price said.

ATAS has been distracted by negotiating an increased network licensing fee for its own Primetime Emmy show. When the four major broadcasters agreed to plunk down $52 million in November for a new eight-year deal—and to keep the show away from HBO, NATAS, seemingly in a display of solidarity, issued a congratulatory press release.

In it, Price dropped the first public mention of a Latin Emmys.

Leavitt says he was stunned. "We hadn't voted; we hadn't even approved it."

He says ATAS has tried to study the issue, sending surveys to its members and holding a September summit with national and international members. Some are concerned other groups might demand their own awards.

Meanwhile, both organizations have entertained Hispanic community leaders and politicians to gauge support.

One of those leaders, Congressman Solomon Ortiz, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force, is trying to remain neutral. "Our purpose has always been, and remains, entirely about mainstream, prime time opportunities for Hispanics in the field of entertainment," Ortiz said. The CHC, he added, has no position "on the value of a Latin Emmy for Spanish-language programming."

Under NATAS' proposal, Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo and Univision would alternate years broadcasting the event and pay an unspecified license fee. The show would be held in New York, Miami or Los Angeles.

A Latin Emmy awards, as NATAS envisions it for now, would honor Spanish-language programming that originates in both the U.S. and other countries.

"[Hispanics] who appear on Spanish-language television like novellas, news and sports you never see or hear about because they are invisible in the English-language awards," Price said.

A major sticking-point, argues Leavitt, is that nearly half the Spanish-language programming aired in the U.S. comes from abroad. That programming can already be entered into the International Emmy Awards, run by NATAS.

But at ATAS, Leavitt say, "Our charter is to salute excellence in prime time programming produced or co-produced in America," he said. "We can't just wave a wand and change that."

One NATAS solution could be creating new Spanish-language categories in the existing awards shows, rather than a separate show.

Even the name of the show is a point of contention. Some Hispanics are offended by the name Latin Emmys (there is, of course, already a Latin Grammy awards show).

In a letter to ATAS Chairman Bryce Zabel, the chairman of the National Latino Media Council Esteban Torres gave his support for a Spanish-language awards show but emphasized: "We have and will always have a huge problem if this award show carries the name Latin Emmys." His preferred name: The Emmys in Espanol.

Telemundo COO Alan Sokol said an awards show, whatever the name, would be "an empowerment event" for the country's 35 million Hispanics.

Sokol said, "Right now Spanish-language television is invisible in awards recognition in the general market."

A Latin Emmys would likely get strong ratings, and Telemundo and Univision could sell it to advertisers at a premium. Univision would not comment for this story.