Keeping fingers crossed at the Emmys

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Sept. 19, 2002 at 4:47 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Producers of the 54th Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards are hoping this year's telecast, scheduled for Sunday in Los Angeles, will come off as planned -- unlike last year's show, which was postponed twice following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The first scheduled telecast was postponed immediately after the attacks. The show was rescheduled for the first Sunday in October, but was put off a second time when the United States commenced attacks on targets in Afghanistan on that day.

With that experience under their belt, planners for this year's telecast at the Shrine Auditorium are able to take into account what they could not anticipate last year -- anxiety over potential disruptions in a post-Sept. 11 world. TV Academy President Bryce Zabel said organizers are keeping open the option to react to whatever might come up.

"There is no rule," he said. "You just have to find your way through it."

Although the terrorist attacks and the raids in Afghanistan came about relatively unexpectedly, this year's Emmy Awards are being mounted in an atmosphere of increasing public debate and speculation about U.S. military action against Iraq. Zabel insists he has no idea what the academy would do if something like that happened this weekend.

"What if we invade Iraq on Sept. 22? I don't know," he said. "We'll do whatever we have to do."

Whatever happens, Zabel said there is no basis for a comparison between the academy's decision in 2001 and whatever officials might have to do in an emergency this year.

"We do think that Americans have a different threshold this year for deciding whether to go forward," he said.

This year's show is being produced by Gary Smith, who took over last year's show after the second postponement, because original producer Don Mischer had to get on with producing the opening ceremonies at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Smith, who has been nominated for an Emmy 28 times and has won seven, said television provided ample coverage of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, so Sunday's show will not spend much time remembering the event.

"I contemplated that," said Smith, "but rather easily and quickly came to the following conclusion: We are so focused on the remembrance of 9-11 that I don't have to do a huge thing on it on the awards."

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC will share the Governors Award on the telecast, in recognition of their cooperation last year in the simulcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes." That show and other Sept. 11 specials are up for several Emmys on Sunday.

Viewers will probably not notice, but Smith said security will be tighter this year than it had been in past years.

"I have to be able to say to every single person who comes to this theater that they will be protected," he said. "We have metal detectors, security, it's loaded."

Viewers may notice what Smith said is a major departure from past Emmy shows -- an almost total absence of big musical production numbers.

"These days most shows don't do production numbers, and shouldn't," said Smith. "Other than at the Tony Awards, traditional production numbers are not a necessary element."

This year's show will borrow a technique from the Academy Awards telecast, showing clips throughout the evening of the nominated drama and comedy series.

"Not unlike the Oscars," said Smith, "those 10 nominees will be featured with special videotape packages, where we have talked to producers and stars -- so you're going to get a chance to really find out what's behind the making of the shows."

Although the show will not dwell on Sept. 11, it will spend considerable time looking back at television in general. Smith said that the set, while sporting a contemporary look, will feature retro TV artifacts -- such as mikes, cameras and even Emmy statuettes.

"If there is a slight underlying theme -- like some of the shows (in prime time) this year look back at TV history -- we're looking back too," said Smith. "We're not dwelling on it, but there will be 40 or 50 TV sets on the stage."

The TV sets will all be operational, showing images from hundreds of TV shows, including images of memorable news events such as Neil Armstrong's moon landing and the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates.

A veteran TV producer of more than 40 years experience, Smith is well aware that lots of things could come up at the last minute to force an abrupt change in plans. But he also knows from experience that such exigencies often result in compelling television.

"Even with the most unfortunate of circumstances, which is what 9-11 was, what happens to us all is that those totally unpredictable occurrences send something you're doing into a direction that brings a kind of focus and emotion that wasn't there before," he said. "We had a great show (last year) because of the circumstances."

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