Emmy Host Neil Patrick Harris Says Changes Will Improve Show

Neil Patrick Harris smiles at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City Neil Patrick Harris smiles at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City

Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris said he hopes industry resistance to streamlining next month’s awards will ease when the plan is made clear.

More than 150 members of the Writers Guild of America, including Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives” and other prominent writer-producers, signed a petition criticizing the decision to pre-tape two writing awards and air edited clips during the live show.

Six other awards, divided among the acting, directing and producing categories, are to be similarly “time-shifted” under the approach approved by the TV academy’s board of governors for the Sept. 20 telecast on CBS.

“I think there is a bit of miscommunication about what time-shifting means,” Harris told a meeting Monday of the Television Critics Association. “We’re just trying to edit down the standing and the hugging … and the walking down the aisle.”

Harris said he was unaware TV writers were upset, adding, “I hope they won’t be when they see what we end up doing. It’s certainly not out of a lack of respect or anything. It’s so we can show the best show we can to the audience.”

The only slight, said the star of “How I Met Your Mother,” is that those attending the ceremony will have to walk the red carpet and be in the theater earlier than in the past for the estimated 45 minutes of pre-taping.

Instead of the typical three-hour ceremony, the Nokia Theatre audience must brace for nearly four hours of sitting.

The plan’s intent isn’t to undermine the integrity of the Emmys but to make them relevant to viewers, according to executive producer Don Mischer. The ceremony, crammed with 28 awards, has struggled in the ratings: Last year’s broadcast drew a record-low audience of 12.3 million.

In contrast, awards shows including the Tonys and Grammys have gotten a ratings bounce by including more entertainment and popular fare, Mischer said.

Pre-taping the eight Emmy categories will save up to 15 minutes and allow for attention to hit shows and memorable TV moments, whether nominated or not, he said.

The 12 most-watched series from last season, including “American Idol” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” garnered only two awards, Mischer said. In contrast, “Mad Men,” which has drawn lavish acclaim but modest ratings, triumphed as best drama series.

According to academy-commissioned research, potential viewers indicated they didn’t tune in because the Emmys featured shows they didn’t know and weren’t interested in.

Guild members opposed to the change could withhold permission for the academy’s use of clips from non-nominated shows, but Jack Sussman, CBS executive vice president for specials and live events, said he believes cooler heads will prevail.

HBO also has protested the time-shifting proposal, which likely will involve several of the movie and miniseries categories that the cable network dominates.

The Emmys face yet another challenge: The ceremony is opposite the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game.

“That’s going to be hard,” Mischer said.

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