NEW YORK — Network television's annual backpat festival, the Emmy Awards show for night-time achievement, will fill the airwaves Sunday night with all manner of honors for programs that aired on ABC, CBS and NBC. But the festivities won't be carried on any of those networks.
The Big Three used to air the Emmy ceremonies on a rotating basis. But this year the telecast will be found on the 11-month-old network of Fox Broadcasting Co. The show from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium will be seen live in the East and will air on a tape-delay basis in the West, starting at 8 p.m.
Fox outbid its older, larger rivals for the Emmy Award broadcast rights with an offer of $1.25 million per year for three years. This caused grumbles from television's major networks--and they may grumble a bit more when the ratings for Sunday night arrive.
In addition to Fox's normal 115-station lineup (which includes KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles and XETV Channel 6 in San Diego), the company says that 46 other stations have signed for the show--35 of them network affiliates, most in smaller markets, who'll preempt their network's fare in favor of the Emmys.
Twenty-two of the network defectors are affiliated with ABC, including KEYT-TV Channel 3 in Santa Barbara. Eight are with CBS and five with NBC.
"Certainly, a network affiliate is going to take heat for clearing (time) for a program from someone who's a rival," says David Johnson, Fox's senior vice president for marketing. "But the fact is, it's a one-time opportunity."
And if the ratings are good, he adds, the network heat "is not un-endurable."
This is what the pre-empters are giving up in favor of the 39th Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards:
--ABC: A "Spenser: For Hire" repeat and a showing of the film version of Broadway's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
--CBS: A "Murder, She Wrote" repeat and a Dudley Moore movie, "Micki & Maude."
--NBC: A new episode of "Family Ties," the premiere of the new "My Two Dads," and a new made-for-TV movie, "The Highwayman."
Nielsen figures for the last six years indicate that Emmy night has fluctuated in viewer popularity, with the lowest ratings logged in 1980 and from 1983 to 1985, when they failed to rise above the 20-point mark.
Last year, though, when the Emmys materialized on top-rated NBC, the telecast got the highest ratings of that six-year period--a 23.1 rating that represented nearly 20.2 million homes.
Whether the Emmy show will do as well on Fox remains to be seen. Sunday's exercise also may indicate whether award profligacy has reached its absolute limit--the prime-time Emmys having become a night on which many are called and many are chosen.
Last Saturday, in off-camera ceremonies held in Pasadena, Emmys were dispensed for achievement in 39 craft and technical categories. On Sunday, awards will be made in 31 other categories--which, particularly when clusters of writers or producers arrive for their show's Emmy, means a whole lot of oratory going on.
Many awards shows have sought to curb speech-making by the winners by imposing stringent time limitations on their acceptance remarks. But Don Ohlmeyer, executive producer of this year's telecast, has said he will eschew that practice.
He wants to "devote more time to the human side of the equation," he says, because in the past, in trying to keep the Emmy program relatively short, "we have lost the heart and soul of the show."
What the producer means to say, a spokesman for Fox explained this week, is that he thinks the audience is interested less in flash and glitter, and more in what the major stars who win have to say. The emphasis will be on the moment of emotion, the spokesman said, and for that reason, Ohlmeyer "is not setting an arbitrary time limit" on speeches.