Matthew Weiner of Mad Men. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof of Lost. Greg Daniels of The Office. David Shore of House. Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy. These are the creative forces behind some of the most popular and influential shows on TV today, the writer/producers who create and oversee the series so often lauded by the Emmys.
Now they're protesting the decision by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to "time-shift" two of the four Emmy writing awards – drama and movie/miniseries – during the September 20 telecast. About 150 of them have signed a petition asking the Academy to reconsider.
"Since most of the showrunners on TV are writers, it seems an unfair and insulting move," said Hart Hanson, creator/showrunner of Bones, one of several writers to respond to a request for comment.
The Emmys will present eight awards prior to the live event and show only highlights of them in the telecast. The move is intended to save time and to increase the entertainment value by de-emphasizing awards given "to people that viewers are not necessarily connected to," in the words of Emmy executive producer Don Mischer at the Television Critics Association press tour.
"What are the Emmys? I thought it was excellence in television. At the Tonys, are they eliminating the playwright?" asked Lawrence Kaplow, a writer/producer with Best Drama nominee House.
The other rationale for the change, according to Mischer's remarks at the TCA, is "to make the show more about broadcasting, not about narrowcasting." That's particularly important for the Academy as they prepare to renegotiate the Emmy broadcast contract during a period of declining ratings.
Last year, the not-exactly-a-viewer-magnet cable show Mad Men took home best drama, while fellow AMC series Breaking Bad earned Bryan Cranston a win for lead actor. This year, AMC is again strong in key categories while HBO has a staggering 99 nominations.
"It sure looks like the networks, through the TV Academy, are tired of cablers like HBO and now AMC running away with the awards night again and again," said writer Adam Barken of Flashpoint. "Why 'time-shift' Dramatic One Hour writers (being the most popular scripted format on TV), but not Comedic Half Hour — it wouldn't have anything to do the fact that the One Hour will go to Mad Men, while Comedic Half Hour will go to 30 Rock, would it?"
"Of course the Emmys are struggling with declining viewership," said Bones' Hanson. "For one thing, too many of the shows being celebrated are shows that most of America doesn't watch. The Emmys are stuck in a situation in which they are both trying to award fairly obscure shows for their excellence and garner high ratings for the award show. This is a pickle, of course, and I think we writers understand that, but we disagree that dropping writers from the lineup will affect ratings."
"They think more people will watch. They won't," argued an Emmy-nominated writer/producer who asked to remain anonymous. "It's a stupid show because it sucks. How about have a meeting with 20 showrunners and see what comes out of that? You'll get a story. You'll get emotion. You'll get people to watch."
Jeff Greenstein, a former Desperate Housewives writer/producer now with Parenthood, put it this way: "I find it ironic that the year after the skit with the five reality show hosts saying 'we got nothing' – the biggest bomb in Emmy history – that they’d kick the writing awards off the show."
Hanson agreed. "Personally, I think that having five unscripted series' hosts, um, HOST the show without scripts sort of underlines how important writers are. Because that sucked."
"I've always dreamed of winning an Emmy," the anonymous writer commented. "And now I'm on a show that could actually win, and the trophy looks golden, but I know deep down she's a ****."