When the Emmy nominations were announced Thursday by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the biggest and most ambitious international television spectacle of the past year didn't get a single nomination.
The global telecast of the Live Aid concerts to aid Ethiopian famine victims is ineligible because it was a telethon, according to the academy's awards director John Leverence.
"I've been doing this for seven years and it's always been that way in my time," he said.
Because the televised versions of Irish rock star Bob Geldof's July 13, 1985, famine-relief rock benefits in London and Philadelphia flashed a toll-free telephone number for pledge donations at the bottom of the screen, they were designated as telethons under academy rules, Leverence said.
There is no precedent for a telethon, or any portion of one, qualifying for an Emmy nomination, he said. So, when the names of Live Aid directors, producers, writers and camera operators were submitted last month, they were politely refused.
"It's crazy!" said Howard Zuckerman, one of the producers of the telecast. "Let this be the precedent if there has to be one. Live Aid tied the world together."
But Leverence said telethons have never qualified in the academy governors' eyes as pure prime-time entertainment because they solicit funds.
"Probably the most familiar such type of programming is the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon."
Neither Lewis nor his telethon workers have ever put their names in Emmy contention, Leverence said.
"If we are going to exclude all telethons, we have to exclude this one, too," he said of Live Aid.
Leverence said a few telethon producers have sought nominations in the past. A 1983 telethon that took in $18 million in pledges for the Democratic National Committee was one recent example. Leverence said the producers of one of the 17-hour telethon's entertainment segments asked to be nominated, but the academy turned them down, too.
"The whole thing is such a farce. Live Aid raised $100 million and now the academy is saying it didn't even exist," said Zuckerman.
Ironically, he said, Live Aid employed more people in front of and behind the camera and reached one of the largest audiences of a single, live television broadcast.
Sixteen satellites beamed the concert performances to 1.5 billion people around the world, according to Live Aid. In the United States, 23.1 million people watched during an average quarter hour. More than 500 technicians and video professionals worked at J.F.K. Stadium, the Philadelphia concert site. A similar number handled the telecast from Wembley Stadium near London.
MTV and a group of independent television stations, including KTLA Channel 5, carried most of the 16-hour music extravaganza. But much of the hope for Emmy qualification rested on an ABC network special that was a mix of live and taped performances.
The ABC special, anchored by Dick Clark, aired within the 7 to 11 p.m. prime-time parameters in which Emmy entertainment nominees must be broadcast under academy rules. The A. C. Nielsen rating service gave ABC's Live Aid show a 24 share of the viewing audience, ranking it 30th among the 64 prime-time shows that aired during the week of July 13-19, 1985. ABC officials estimated at the time that 40 million Americans watched some portion of their program.
Zuckerman said his company, Worldwide Sports and Entertainment, was responsible for the live broadcast and could have been nominated in every academy category if Live Aid had not been ruled ineligible.
"We originated the world telecast, the feed for ABC and whatever they carried live," he said. "They just pushed one button and sat back and watched. Technologically, it was the first major breakthrough to tie the world together in one major show."
Though the ABC special did not run the toll-free pledge number on the screen, a number of pre-taped celebrity appeals for donations were interspersed between acts. Those appeals were enough to put the program in the telethon category, Leverence said.
Geldof has been honored for his role in the benefit, including an honorary knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II just last week. He won last year's prestigious George Foster Peabody broadcasting award for Live Aid, but is as ineligible for an Emmy as ABC, MTV or Worldwide Sports and Entertainment are for their coverage of the event.
Zuckerman said New York's Museum of Broadcasting found the telecast significant enough to request all 16 hours of Live Aid for its permanent collection.
Ironically, the academy's own semimonthly magazine, Emmy, published an eight-page article in its current edition praising the ground-breaking technical achievement and humanitarian efforts of the Live Aid telecasts.
"It said we might be eligible for a special award like the Governors Award, but they announced last week that was going to Danny Thomas or somebody," Zuckerman said.
The academy announced July 21 that Red Skelton would receive the Governors Award for "outstanding achievement . . . which is either of a cumulative nature or so extraordinary and universal in nature as to be beyond the scope of the Emmy Awards presented in the categories and areas of achievements."