KEN EHRLICH is producing his fourth straight Emmy telecast, this time on ABC with five co-hosts from the world of reality TV: Tom Bergeron ("Dancing With the Stars"), Heidi Klum ("Project Runway"), Howie Mandel ("Deal or No Deal"), Jeff Probst ("Survivor") and Ryan Seacrest ("American Idol"). It will be the Emmys' first use of multiple hosts since 2003, for a 60th telecast meant to celebrate the history of the medium. ABC is, for instance, giving viewers a chance to vote online on the 10 best all-time moments from both dramas and comedies, with results broadcast on Emmy night.
So, what's in store for viewers this time?
It's going to be different. Hopefully it's going to be better. When we announced this, someone had aggregated the number of people who watch these five [hosts] on a weekly basis when their shows are on, and it's something over 70 million people. You talk about household names!
As a producer, you try and figure out an approach to these kinds of shows, which can sometimes be predictable. What can you put in the equation that will make them a little different and, hopefully, more fun?
The first meeting that I had over at ABC was with [entertainment chief] Steve McPherson. He didn't give me a lot of direction but the simple message was: "It's the 60th; we've had a reasonably rough year with the [writers] strike and everything; I want the show to really celebrate the medium." I don't have a problem with that. I love television.
So one of the things we're doing is we're re-creating the sets of some iconic television shows. So that when we come back from a commercial, we'll be in the Oval Office of "The West Wing," or a representative set from "The Simpsons," or the diner from "Seinfeld." Those things will be upstage. Sometimes they'll have something to do with what we're doing on the show. And sometimes they'll be nothing more than a reference.
All of the hosts come from unscripted TV. Are we to draw a larger message from that?
I don't know that I want to make that judgment call. There's no question that unscripted television has at this point become an extremely relevant part of television. By virtue of the fact that the Emmys have a category for reality hosts, it seems entirely appropriate to think about having the nominees in that category carry the show.
Is it challenging to work with so many hosts?
The real challenge is making sure that they all feel a part of the show. And we're doing pretty well with that so far. Have I had them all in one room at the same time? No. We did a photo shoot a couple weeks ago. Heidi was in Europe, so we did it with the four of them and we wound up Photoshopping her in.
You've produced the Grammys since 1980, how is the Emmys different?
The major difference is that on the Grammys, I usually put somewhere between 16 and 18 performances onstage and many fewer awards. On this show, it's exactly the opposite. There are more than 20 awards. So the key to this show is obviously to elevate the awards.
There's only so much you can do with an award, in terms of presentation. It's still going to wind up being one or two people coming out, announcing some names, running through the category, and then presenting the award. So the key for us is to look for what those moments "in between" are. This show should be able to accommodate all things television.
What about the fact that little-seen shows like "Mad Men" got so many nominations? A lot of viewers just haven't seen those series.
It makes it a little trickier when we build our clip packages. With shows like "Damages" and "Mad Men" and some of these other shows, you want to be able to try and tell a story. It's not easy to tell a story in 15 or 20 seconds per clip. You have to assume, particularly in this case, that you are exposing these shows to new audiences.