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Exploring the Emmys

Dick Askin is currently serving his second term as chairman/CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The former president/CEO of Hollywood-based Tribune Entertainment Company talked to B&C's Anne Becker about the upcoming Emmy (September 16 on Fox)—nominations, ratings and more.

The industry focused a lot of attention on the changes in the Emmy voting process last year—how did you think things turned out and will the process change this year?

Overall, we're happy with the way we changed the process. There were some anomalies that made for some pretty controversial nominations—inclusions or exclusions. Over the last year we've been concentrating on fixing those anomalies. Some of it is just making sure we have larger screening committees and judging panels. Probably one of the biggest changes is last year we had blue ribbon panels in a position to overrule the popular vote for the nomination which wasn't as well-done as it could've been. Now, it's a combination of both of those scores, so you don't have a much smaller sampling overriding a larger one.

Why have awards show audiences dwindled?

All of television is challenged these days almost regardless of whether you're an awards show or an ongoing series or a special. Fragmentation's a reality of life, so I think, all in all, some of the awards shows—the Emmys, the Golden Globes and the Oscars—they have softened up over the years, but I think their erosion is a lot less than the network averages'.

So, what do you do to bring viewers back?

Every year we look at ways of increasing the viewership. It's not so much quickening the pace. A lot of it's a function of the nominees, the executive producer, the host and television['s popularity] in general. Two years ago, when we had Desperate Housewives and Lost entering their first season, there was a tremendous amount of interest in the program just because of those two shows. Every year you're dealt a different set of cards and you really have to try and maximize them. Last year we had Conan O'Brien as our host and we felt that was a tremendous calling card and advantage. The difficult thing was we were playing in August because of the NFL deal NBC had.

Who's the real Emmy voter?

We have approximately 14,000 members in the television academy and the judges are a cross-section of several hundred members who volunteer to give up eight hours on a Saturday or Sunday to come down and judge. We put them through a process to make sure they're bona fide members, and also make sure they're not voting for their own show or a show they have any affinity or connection with. On the blue ribbon panels last year, there were a lot of network people, people from different facets of production. There was a typical age skew—right in the sweet spot of the television viewing audience and the membership—25–54. Part of our goal this year was to get out the vote and increase the size of the panels as much as possible. We've been taking ads and sending email blasts to all academy members. So far it looks like we're running way ahead of last year. The more people you have judging, the more confident you can be in their selection.

Will NATAS and ATAS ever resolve their ongoing feuding?

You'd like to think so, but it's been going on in varying degrees of intensity since 1977. Two years ago, the relationship between the two organizations was very good and amicable, but in the last year the relationship has deteriorated quite a bit, so your guess is as good as mine. But I don't think it's good for the industry to have two organizations that represent excellence to be constantly bickering with each other. In a perfect world, there'd be one organization that would speak to excellence in television, but I think the leadership of both organizations have to play the cards the way they're dealt and do what's best for their organizations. The way they're set up is so different, there would have to be a tremendous amount of reorganization to do.