In a rare joint appearance, the heads of the organizations behind the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Grammys expressed optimism about strike talk progress and also tackled the task of producing live events.
“The planning continues,” Bill Kramer, CEO of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said when asked about the upcoming Oscars. “We don’t stop planning. We’ve all had to deal with years of pivoting. This is just the latest pivot moment. We’re supportive. We see all sides of this. We want a solution. … There’s just a lot of planning and pivoting right now.”
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After a breakthrough Wednesday, WGA negotiators are meeting again with the AMPTP today, and optimism is growing about a potential settlement to the nearly 5-month-long impasse. Award shows have been particularly hard-hit by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, with the Emmys pushed back to January, putting them in the first-quarter corridor with the Grammys and Oscars. The Tonys mounted a strike-affected show in June, earning generally high marks after clashing with the WGA.
Kramer was joined on the panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York by Heather Hitchens, CEO of American Theatre Wing; Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of The Recording Academy; Maury McIntyre, CEO of Television Academy; and Adam Sharp, CEO, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. As they took the stage, multiple panelists said it was the first collective public appearance by the EGOT bosses, adding that several of them had never met in person. Mason wryly observed, “There’s no beef” among the quintet, and said they often consult each other and compare notes behind the scenes.
McIntyre said Emmy preparations are in an active mode, noting the sequence of events he and his colleagues have had to manage. Emmy nominations were announced the day before the SAG-AFTRA walkout, and the ceremony had initially been scheduled to happen earlier this week, he noted. “The awards actually showcase how important the creators are,” he said. While there has been “a lot of sturm und drang” about the strikes, he is “hopeful” based on the news of the week. “We’re going to coast on this positive side as we develop our plans,” he said.
Hitchens recalled the touch-and-go period last spring, when she helped steer the effort to carry on with the Tonys after an agreement with the WGA that show material not be scripted. “We are one inter-dependent industry,” she said. “The strikes are happening because we are having once-a-generation changes, but we are stronger together.” In the case of the Tonys, she added, the key ingredient was host Ariana DeBose “could do something without a script. … She threw herself down the stairs for us!”
Asked about the challenges of mounting live shows in an era of linear TV decline, Kramer said it isn’t fair to judge a show strictly by live, same-day ratings. “We have to think about how we create a live television show that’s on-mission for our art form,” Kramer said. “That’s a constant conversation we keep entertaining.” Social media and other extensions offer new opportunities, he continued, but “we have to think about what that business model looks like.”
Sizing up live viewership “doesn’t work anymore,” Kramer said. “You need a Plus-7 number. You need impressions on Instagram and TikTok and Facebook. All of that counts,” he said. “We’re all trying to get out of that moment where the press release goes out two days after the show talking about how many people watched it the night of. I think it’s dangerous to just focus on that. It’s a bigger audience, it’s a more diverse audience and they’re engaging with us in different ways. But it all comes back to, we have to put on a great live TV show.”
There are plenty of signs of life in the traditional effort to draw viewers to the same programming at the same time, Sharp said, citing Saturday Night Live, sports and election-year politics. “We are attracted to that communal experience still,” he said.
McIntyre said, “It is the live aspect, where anything can happen that generally helps us from a buzz perspective.” While no one explicitly mentioned The Slap or Will Smith — events that precede Kramer’s tenure — all eyes turned to the AMPAS chief. “I’m not commenting,” Kramer deadpanned as the audience and fellow panelists laughed. “Anything can happen.”
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