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'LITTLE ORPHAN EMMY' TELEVISION ACADEMY'S STATUETTE CAN'T GET ANY RESPECT IN WORLD OF OSCARS, GRAMMYS AND EVER-RISING SEA OF NEW AWARDS SHOWS.

Byline: Valerie Kuklenski Staff Writer

EVERYTHING ABOUT the Shrine Auditorium atmosphere - the red carpet, the bleachers for hundreds of cheering fans, the spotless sheen of the oversize golden statues - says what's going on tonight is going to be a Big Deal.

Why, then, can't the Primetime Emmy Awards get a little respect?

Granted, the television industry's top award is on the rebound from its most difficult year, when Sept. 11 and the Oct. 7 start of U.S. attacks in Afghanistan forced the 2001 ceremonies to be postponed twice.

When the show finally aired Nov. 4, it was with heavy security, a request for ``dressy business'' attire and the noticeable absence of some New York-based actors who chose to stay home.

The show, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, drew critical praise - but also one of its smallest audiences ever, thanks in big part to the seventh game of the World Series airing on Fox opposite it the East and Midwest. Fox posted the Emmy results during the game, spoiling the surprises for West Coast viewers looking forward to the tape-delayed awards.

But industry observers say even with designer gowns, a good turnout of stars and proper secrecy about winners, in 54 years the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences just hasn't been able to get the public fired up about its Emmys as much as the motion picture academy does with Oscars.

``That's not Emmy's fault,'' says Tom O'Neil, an entertainment awards expert who works with the television academy on his periodically updated book ``The Emmys.'' ``It's Hollywood snobbery. They have contempt for the boob tube and an almost swooning reverence for the silver screen.''

O'Neil notes that the 40 to 50 films a year deemed Oscar-worthy make for elitism that an 80-channel, 24/7 television universe cannot match.

``The Emmys also suffer from an embarrassment of riches,'' he said. ``There are too many gold statues. There is not a best actress of the year; there are three of them - in drama, comedy and movies.''

Katharine Hepburn is revered as the only performer to have collected four Academy Awards. When actress Cloris Leachman picked up her record-breaking eighth Emmy last weekend at the Creative Arts ceremonies (one of 87 being presented this year for prime-time categories alone), it was no big deal in the mainstream media. And ``All My Children'' star Susan Lucci's many nominations without a win prompted both pity and ridicule.

Remember when there were only a handful of awards shows on TV each year - the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys? Neither do we, and that's part of the problem. O'Neil, who does red-carpet chatter at some of them for E! Entertainment Television, counts more than 35 televised entertainment awards shows each season, which is good for limo drivers and caterers but has diluted the impact of the television industry's big night.

``In this gold-statue sweepstakes that's going on, on the outside of it all is Little Orphan Emmy,'' O'Neil said.

There are also differences in the academies' perceptions within show business. The film academy is an invited membership, while the TV academy card can be purchased by industry professionals.

One significant step toward breaking that Rodney Dangerfield complex will be how ATAS fares in its ongoing TV rights negotiations. The Emmys telecast for several years has rotated among ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in a ``wheel'' system that brings in about $3 million a year for the academy. The networks pick up the cost of producing the show, and the academy makes additional income off entry fees, international rights, ticket sales and program advertising.

The current wheel contract renewal deadline is Oct. 18, and ATAS chairman and CEO Bryce Zabel, a writer and producer by trade, says he sees raising the network fee as his most important goal.

``It's not getting the money it's worth,'' Zabel said in an interview between academy and Emmy meetings. ``It's getting $3 million (a year), and there's a roughly $25 million upside (for the network). You've got the production costs to pull out of that, but we clearly should be getting a lot more money.''

In comparison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spends about $17 million (about half the show's tab shared with ABC) to stage the Oscars and rakes in $46 million a year.

``It's unacceptable that the (recording academy's) Grammys are getting $40 million and the Emmys get a box lunch,'' said O'Neil, adding his endorsement of ATAS setting an asking price and giving the show to whoever meets it.

Zabel said tonight will be the barometer for evaluating the Emmy telecast's current worth. Throw out last year's scant 17 million viewers, he suggests, because of the baseball competition and the revealed winners. Unfortunately, the 1999 telecast drew the same number, and trends show the Emmys are far less popular with viewers than the Oscars, the latter often the second most-watched telecast after the Super Bowl.

What could inspire more people to sit up and take notice of Emmys this year is having HBO's hot drama ``Six Feet Under'' and NBC's beloved comedy ``Friends'' in serious running for the top honors. Credit a rule change that has allowed for at-home viewing of Emmy submissions, boosting voting participation among the academy's busiest (and younger) members.

Looking down the road, Zabel would like to mend fences with that other academy, the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Daytime Emmys and hands out the news awards. In the wake of regime changes on both coasts, Zabel and the New York executives have formed an alliance aimed at putting the past behind them (a longtime feud resulted in a court-ordered split in 1975, although Zabel says no one these days fully understands what the dispute was about), and finding a common ground that could make them more effective and more beneficial to their industry.

He also hopes to make a deal with Anschutz Entertainment Group for a lease on the proposed 7,000-seat theater near the Staples Center, a landmark to be associated with the Emmys just as Hollywood's new Kodak Theatre already is linked with the Oscars.

The television academy is working to keep pace with the evolving nature of its medium, forseeing a time when all viewers will choose what to watch and exactly when to watch it. The question is, will viewers with so many options choose to tune in to the Emmys?

TV coverage

LIVE COUNTDOWN TO THE RED CARPET

What: Steve Kmetko, Jules Asner and the gang riff for six hours about predictions, fans and last-minute preparations.

Where: E! Entertainment Television.

When: Noon today.

LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET: PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS

What: Joan and Melissa Rivers interview incoming stars at the Shrine and talk up - or down - what they're wearing.

Where: E!

When: 6 p.m. today.

COUNTDOWN TO THE EMMYS

What: Katie Couric and Matt Lauer of ``Today'' interview nominees and other celebs on the aforementioned carpet.

Where: NBC, Channel 4.

When: 7 tonight.

54TH ANNUAL PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS

What: Winged statuettes in 26 categories are presented to the best of the 2001-2002 season.

Where: NBC, Channel 4.

When: 8 tonight.

LIVE POST-SHOW: PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS

What: Kmetko and Asner have one-on-one interviews with winners, and Tom O'Neil and Matt Roush analyze the voting.

Where: E!

When: 11 tonight.

BACKSTAGE ACCESS

What: Pat O'Brien and Nancy O'Dell of ``Access Hollywood'' recap the evening and interview winners.

Where: NBC, Channel 4.

When: 11:30 tonight.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) EMMY'S INFERIORITY COMPLEX

TV's big night yearns for the respect (and money) given its awards-show sisters

(2) Bryce Zabel, chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, is trying to get the organization back on its feet after a tough year.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(3) The refurbished Shrine Auditorium

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) TV coverage (see text)

(2) the nominees
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Words:1323
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