Despite record-low ratings and a record-high length for Sunday's Emmy Awards telecast on the Fox Broadcasting network, the president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences defended the organization's decision to award the telecast to the highest bidder.
"The ratings were somewhat disappointing," said Richard Frank, president of the Academy. "But as far as the Academy is concerned, the ratings are immaterial. We receive the same amount of money no matter what the ratings are."
The telecast ran four hours and garnered an 8.8 national rating, down nearly two-thirds from the numbers the show received on NBC last year--prompting many television critics to suggest that the Emmy Awards had been tarnished.
"This year's four-hour marathon, an Olympics of boredom, was one of the worst Emmy shows ever, a dim and dolorous debacle that set brave new lows in entertainment," wrote Tom Shales in the Washington Post. "The TV Academy . . . accepted Fox's offer this year in order to make an extra couple of bucks. But putting the show on Fox lowered its prestige still further. Now it's down there with the Golden Globes and the People's Choice Awards."
According to the Academy, it was actually about 350,000 extra bucks a year that prompted it to spurn the three major networks and sign a three-year deal with Fox for $1.25 million a year. The Academy receives more than 60% of its annual revenue from its licensing of the Emmy telecast.
Frank refused to accept suggestions from critics and some network executives that low ratings diminish the value of the Emmy Award itself and are bad for the television industry as a whole. He claimed that the networks want to voice that criticism simply to discredit Fox.
Frank also said two of the networks, which carried their regular Sunday lineups--including the highly rated "Family Ties" on NBC and the season premiere of "Murder, She Wrote" on CBS--deliberately programmed heavily against the Emmys in order to guarantee a low rating for their fledgling competitor.
"The Emmys still carry the same credibility," Frank said. "If (the networks) put on weaker programming, would the Emmy be worth more? Is the Emmy worth less because 'Family Ties' was on against it? We would've loved more people to see our show. But it wasn't worth the loss in revenues."
Not everyone at the Academy agrees. Doug Duitsman, the Academy's president-elect who will assume Frank's job in October, suggested that low ratings do tarnish the awards. But with the Academy committed to Fox for the next two years, he said everyone involved will simply work hard to overcome the harm caused by this year's program.
"We have to do everything we can to put the Emmys back on the level of the Oscars and the Grammys," Duitsman said. "A better show will attract more viewers. I don't think we're going to be damaged forever. But maybe (the Academy) should have waited two or three years, until Fox was a more established network, to make the deal."
Fox, which ironically received its highest ratings ever for the Emmy telecast, seemed pleased with the telecast and its executive producer, Don Ohlmeyer.
Though the network intends to explore ways to cut future Emmy broadcasts down to a more workable time frame, Fox spokesman Brad Turell said Fox would probably ask Ohlmeyer to produce the show again next year. He also dismissed criticism that the comparatively low ratings on Fox batters the prestige of the Emmys and the entire television industry.
"We would like to improve the ratings of our Emmy broadcasts," Turell said. "But the Emmys are still a celebration of the excellence of creative talent. The performers were just as excited to win it this year (with the telecast on Fox) as they were last year."