After Further Review: Emmy’s John Shaffner Reflects 

Publish date:

Another year, another Emmys telecast, and with it
came the hits (the upset wins!) and the inevitable
misses (those Emmytones). John Shaffner, the Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences chairman who
is finishing up his second two-year term, spoke with
Broadcasting & Cable staff writer Andrea Morabito
about what he felt did and
didn’t work in this year’s show.

MCN:Did you read the reviews
of the show, and did you think
they were fair?

John Shaffner: The reviews
reflect in many ways the expectations
and the mindsets of
the reviewers. And as much as
I admire and understand that a
television critic and a reviewer
has to, in theory, look at the big
picture, and has looked at all
different kinds of TV and appreciates
things for what they are,
they still come to the party, and
we all come to the party, with
certain expectations. Some
things cannot always exceed
everyone’s expectations. I think
our reviews have been all over
the place, to tell you the truth. I
think we’ve had some really positive
ones throughout, and obviously
we’ve had some [reviewers
who] were a little off -put by the
bouncing around of the material
and some of the subject matter.

MCN: Tell me the back story on
the Charlie Sheen appearance.

JS: When [the Television Academy]
learned of his appearance
on the show…we were deeply
concerned that Charlie’s behavior
[wouldn’t] be appropriate
to our telecast. Obviously,
when you’re doing a live show
you’re very, very concerned that
the behavior would reflect appropriately
on the telecast. We
expressed our deepest concerns
to [Emmys producer Mark] Burnett
and to the leadership at Fox.
They were very confident that
Charlie would deliver a respectable
presentation, and they really
strongly felt that this was an
important part of this year, especially
last year, of television, and
that if he was willing and able to
come back and do this in a proper
manner, they were insistent
that it would be a good part of
the show. And I think that everyone who watched the show
has their own opinion of how successful that was, and I will
let everyone draw their own conclusions.

MCN: So you’re not going to say if you thought it ended up
being appropriate or not?

JS: On a telecast basis, did it succeed to the extent that they
were hopeful to? I don’t think it served the purpose as successfully
as it had been hoped to. It couldn’t help but perhaps
upstage some of the other work that was being done.
This sounds really terrible, but it was much more of a yawn
in many respects, because he was there, he said his speech,
he left. I think that’s the final story — the anticipation of
something being really TV-great — was kind of met by the
audience with sort of a yawn.

MCN: Two other things that stuck out — with differing
rates of success — were the ‘Emmytones’ choir and the
lead comedy actresses’ stage rush. Who thought of those
bits, and did they play out as planned?

JS: When you’re thinking of a show like this, you’ve got lots
and lots of ideas. And you nurse them along to see which
ones are going to make it. It’s like sprinkling seeds and
seeing which sprouts are going to take hold. The Emmytones
was kind of a sprout that took hold, and then it grew
enough, but it maybe wasn’t the perfect plant for the rest of
the garden because in many ways it was a non sequitur to
the evening.
It referenced a historical kind of aspect of TV — when
jingles were a lot of television — and so you would ask yourself,
what is it? And in terms of
the performers and the people
who did the work, I think they
gave it their whole heart and
soul. I think it’s a challenge
to introduce the concept of
the year in review, but I think
sometimes we might have lost
track of that a little bit, that
that’s what they were doing.
In terms of the comedy, the
ladies, Amy Poehler had a lot
to do with it because she is just
so much fun. When you start
thinking about doing something
like this, everyone becomes
a little fearful. With the
caliber of the people who engage
in the bit, as we used to
call it, you know that it’s going
to succeed. I think it was so cool
to see them together because
that’s when you really looked
and went “Oh my — the talent.”
It was a real test on the improvisational
skills of each one of
those ladies, and Melissa handled
it beautifully. And it’s because
they were having fun, we
had fun.

MCN: What rule changes are
being considered? Will we see
an expansion of awards in
the reality genre because that
now represents such a large
percentage of programming?

JS: What we’re thinking about
is looking at the whole universe
there. Have we distributed
the awards properly, do we
have the right categories that
reflect the work? We shifted so
many of the awards into what
we’re calling special-class
now. Maybe we need to review
how many awards shows there
are on TV. Should we separate
that more cleanly away from
other kinds of live telecasts,
for example? We don’t want to
expand the number of awards
particularly; we will if there’s
a real necessity. But I think
it’s more a review of that universe
to see if we are making a contest that makes sense
to people.