TV Academy, NATAS Chiefs Talk Emmys, Representation, COVID and Ending 43-Year Feud in First Joint Interview

As first reported last week by Variety, the Los Angeles-based Television Academy has eliminated its children’s program category at the Primetime Emmys, ceding kids awards to its New York counterpart: the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which administers the Daytime Emmys (as well as sports, news and documentary and other awards).

That may not sound like a big deal — after all, it makes sense that kids TV be grouped together on one kudocast. But it was a landmark moment in the tumultuous history of the two major TV academies. After a rift between the two coasts forced a split in 1977, the rivals spent decades battling each other (including in court) over which has jurisdiction of the Emmy Awards.

Things reached a boiling point in 2008, when NATAS tried to launch its own Broadband Emmys, and the TV Academy balked. A New York judge ultimately ruled in favor of the Los Angeles academy, and after that, the relationship remained icy but chill.

But a thaw is finally here, instigated by Television Academy president-chief operating officer Maury McIntyre and NATAS president-CEO Adam Sharp — two leaders unencumbered by those past brawls.

McIntyre and Sharp have spent the past two years fostering a cooperation that has led to agreements such as how to handle the children’s program Emmy. This year, faced with a global pandemic that upended how the various Emmy ceremonies were held, the orgs kept close contact as they figured out how to pivot. For the first time since that 1977 split, the two sides recently met with Variety to conduct a joint Academy summit.

What have some of your conversations been like this year?

Maury McIntyre: Adam unfortunately had the ‘benefit’ of going first with Daytime, and was very gracious about sharing what they were doing, how the competition evolved, and we reciprocated.

Adam Sharp: Certainly coordination of calendars. We wanted to make sure we each gave each other enough room in the spotlight. Also with the growth of digital Daytime vs. Primetime is not as clearly defined as it used to be. There winds up being a dialogue of, ‘Does this show belong with you or us?’ And wanting to make sure that we’re all being consistent in how we’re doing that. And also making sure that no one’s trying to sort of play the old ‘mommy said no, so I’ll go ask daddy.’

Do you get a lot of outsiders trying to play the academies against each other?

McIntyre: There’s no question there’s a little bit of the industry sometimes thinking, when they have the option, which is the better option to go to? Where do I have a better chance? I don’t want to say that they’re gaming the system per se, but they’re certainly taking advantage of the system. And that’s certainly a topic that has been top of mind for Adam and I for the entire time Adam has been in his role and certainly this year. And ongoing conversations for the next year. What does a daypart mean when you’re on Netflix? We just have a number of categories but still were a little iffy. And one of those instances has been children’s programming.

Sharp: It’s one of those areas where you were seeing some of that shopping and abuse.

Both academies took the first step last year in eliminating the confusion over primetime specials of daytime shows, placing them in the Daytime Emmys.

McIntyre: We both co-own the brand. It’s imperative that both of us keep that brand as meaningful and impactful and prestigious as possible. But the division between our organizations can’t hamper us from evolving with this industry.

How have you two repaired the relationship between NATAS and the TV Academy?

McIntyre: We’ve been trying it in fits and starts over the past seven, eight years. Adam, when you came in, you faced a bit of a crisis, because you had heard from a number of Academy members in the daytime community who had concerns about the [Daytime Emmys]. And really, your response and how you handled the transparency was a clear indication to the Television Academy that you guys are really trying. And we needed to help you try and support you. Because we co-own this brand together.

Sharp: My first official day as interim CEO was the morning after the 2018 Daytime Emmys, the ceremony that triggered a boycott threat [over voter transparency questions]. So I was being thrown right into the fire. In hindsight, it gave us a big opportunity for reset — both externally, with our relationship with the Television Academy and with the community, as well as internally. Part of our response to those boycott threats was commissioning a full top-down review of how we run our competitions and discovering the problems there, and it had a ‘Rip the Band-Aid off’ effect. It allowed us to probably be more aggressive on addressing areas in our own shop where we’ve fallen short than we probably would have without that catalyst from the community.

McIntyre: And the transparency that NATAS showed in terms of what they were doing and evaluating it, actually brought to light issues that the Television Academy was doing to compound the issue. We were trying to stay out of it, but by staying out of it then we were contributing to the concern about who’s voting. This year, we were really pushing and saying, ‘Academy members, you’re the ones who have to vote on this. You’ve got to go vote in the Daytime Emmys, because they need people to vote.’ We had to open our own eyes.

Do we really need two TV academies in 2020?

McIntyre: I’m being a bit facetious, but sometimes I’m like, how do we do it with just two?

Sharp: I’m not sure there’s ever been a defining reason why it has to be multiple academies. It came down to people, a generation ago, who couldn’t agree and split up. I think we’ve gotten to the point that we’re being able to talk to each other, and it allows things to operate in ways that spread the workload. I don’t think there’s necessarily a big compelling force pushing them back together.

McIntyre: I agree at this point with Adam: We are working closer. I’m not seeing the same kind of driving forces that might push us to get back together. Five or 10 years from now, should they get together? Probably, just from the sheer business sense of it. We’d have to have a lot of conversations to understand what that means. NATAS oversees the bulk of all the local chapters. And so that’s a lot of their work. Right now what Adam and I are trying to do is, in some ways, act as if we are one — to protect the brand itself — but understand how we each operate.

There is still a lot of uncertainty as the COVID pandemic continues. How will that impact next year’s awards calendars?

Sharp: What does it take to get back to in-person events? It’s not enough for a vaccine to be created and approved. It’s not even enough for it to be widely available or widely taken. It’s the point when the average person who would come to an event trusts that everyone else in the room has taken the vaccine. That’s a big unknown. It certainly makes the first half of the year look pretty darn close to impossible. And so the question becomes, can we compress a year’s worth of events into a few months in the fall, while also trying to steer clear of the Television Academy? And then recognizing that 2022 is probably going to be better still, does doing that compression to the fall, make it that much harder to get back to normal in 2022, because of the delayed start and so on. And so I think you’ll probably see a lot more carryover of some things from 2021, trying to get back to a little bit of normal at least on competition calendar stuff, and have at least some degree of virtual events that allows us to do some parts of our business in the early part of the year. We’re still laying out that calendar.

McIntyre: The two immediate questions for us really is what’s the eligibility period, will that change, and what’s going to go on for FYC campaigning. There’s no current plan to change eligibility but we’re going to keep watching what’s going on and how quickly shows come back. We’ll evaluate whether it makes sense to keep the eligibility period exactly as it is supposed to be. [As for] the FYC campaign, I just simply don’t see that anyone is going to be in a position to be able to pull large crowds together in Los Angeles, regardless of where we are with the vaccine. Within the next month or two, we will come out with a decision in terms of how we see the official FYC campaign season operating so that it’s fair for everyone.

Maury, the Creative Arts Emmys expanded to five virtual shows this year. Is that a template for the future?

McIntyre: , There was a lot of consternation about the Creative Arts in terms of is this the right thing to do or not. There was that whole Zoom call fatigue and even though ours weren’t Zoom calls, did someone really want to sit in front of their computer watching this kind of a show for three hours? One of the real successes out of it is we actually had news every single day leading up to the Emmys because every night of the Creative Arts had something new to talk about, in terms of who won the night before. Disney Plus getting its first Emmys for ‘The Mandalorian’ and then Quibi getting its first Emmys. I don’t know that I think that it translates if we’re back to in person events. I don’t see us doing five nights of in-person shows. But I do think we want to evaluate that and see what is best.

What can both academies do to improve representation?

McIntyre: We’ve all benefited from the fact that television itself has been more progressive as a medium than some of the other platforms out there. I think there’s no question that there is a disparity in the representation and the growth of representation, both in below and above the line. This year especially in the performer categories we were lauded clearly for our representation for the black community, but the Latinx community was sorely underrepresented, not to mention Asian American or, indigenous people. So there’s obviously a lot of work to be done. It’s a really hard question to answer because there’s not a whole lot you can do at the competition side. We’re at the end of the pipeline. You got to get that representation to go in. We didn’t see that representation in the submissions either. And that’s a problem. You can’t nominate somebody if they’re not actually even submitted. I actually applaud some of the efforts I’ve seen NATAS do in terms of gender representation. They have actually collapsed down so that they’re not necessarily having to talk about male/female/non-binary or anything like that. We are not there yet.

Sharp: We certainly didn’t do it in all our categories. But I don’t imagine us creating new gendered categories moving forward. Collapsing, especially when those categories have existed for a long time, can also have a disenfranchising effect. And that’s something that the Grammys experienced when they took some of their gendered categories and when non gendered. They discovered that in some categories that meant they wound up with all male nominees. And so I think we did not want to be paralyzed by the fear of doing the wrong thing. One thing we do control our judges, and this is where we might have a little bit more to work with. Because we do panels of judges so instead of a ballot that goes to the whole community the way the Television Academy does, ours are a specifically selected group of judges paneled for a particular category. And so that gives us probably more flexibility to focus on these issues in that judging pool. At the narrowest scope, we turned over nearly half our staff in the last year, and dramatically changed the balance of our national office that had been predominantly white and predominantly male before, now it’s majority female, and much more diverse across every other group.

What’s your biggest challenge for 2021?

McIntyre: Absolutely the pandemic. Our industry is still out of work. This is going to be a long recovery, to get the industry back to where it was.

Sharp: And then we each have the same challenges that any other small to mid sized business leaders have, as CEOs, how do you manage a team when no one on that team has been able to be in the same room with each other in seven months. Getting the industry back to work, what it means for the people we represent, how do we do our shows, how do we do our competitions, how do we take care of our own staff, how do we develop our teams so on so forth. It might be a to do list of 1000 items but everything flows from COVID-19.

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