Daytime Emmys review concludes, NATAS vows changes to Daytime Emmys process

Posted Thursday, November 08, 2018 3:27:37 AM

In response to a threatened boycott, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences ordered an independent review of the entire Daytime Emmys process. The investigation looked into claims of favoritism, ambiguous rules, and allegations that winners were known in advance. As a result of the investigation, some substantial changes have been made to the Emmy competition.

Nearly five months after a series of disqualifications and an Emmy revocation threatened to overshadow the Daytime Emmy Awards, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has released the details of an investigation that was conducted in response to allegations of unfair practices, favoritism, and sketchy guidelines.

Faced with a boycott by the four network soaps, NATAS hired an independent and neutral council to review NATAS policies and procedures for the Daytime Emmy Awards to make sure that the process remains transparent and fair to all parties. With that investigation now concluded, NATAS has identified five areas where improvements are needed.

The first area where changes will be made involves the official rulebook. The instructions will be streamlined to avoid unnecessary confusion and previously ambiguous terms -- like "episode" -- will now be clarified.

In the 2018 Daytime Emmys competition, several nominees in the various Digital Series acting categories were disqualified because their submissions did not adhere to guidelines that capped the number of episodes that their reels could contain. While most of the nominated series refer to their episodes as "episodes," the Emmy-winning series The Bay refers to its installments as "chapters."

"Such a characterization gives rise to the argument there are alternate interpretations of the Episode Rule with regard to its application," the report, written by Kevin M. Goldberg and Robert M. Winteringham of the law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, wrote. It was this interpretation, or misinterpretation, that allowed Eric Nelsen to keep his Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Drama Series."

For its investigation, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth conducted a review of thousands of pages of documents and emails along with several days of interviews with NATAS staff and competition participants.

The second area that NATAS will address involves the number of people tasked with overseeing the voting process.

"The 2018 Daytime Emmys generated a record number of entries and tremendous growth in both in-hall and at-home audience, but we did not scale our operations commensurately," NATAS said in a statement. As such, NATAS plans to add "at least one full-time and several part-time positions." NATAS will also delineate responsibilities so that the competition and show production teams are led by different members of NATAS' senior executive team. Senior Vice President David Michaels will continue to serve as Executive Producer of the Daytime Emmy ceremonies. He will no longer oversee the voting process. Instead, NATAS states that "Executive Director Brent Stanton will take independent and separate responsibility for overseeing the competition."

In a July 2018 letter from representatives of each of the four network soaps, concern expressed that having Michaels oversee both the voting and the Daytime Emmy broadcast presented a "conflict of interest."

Additionally, to prevent disqualifications from seeming arbitrary, new and additional review steps will be implemented to "ensure that decisions and guidance are consistent and metered out fairly, and that the handling of such events is appropriately documented."

The move is seemingly in response to outrage over the revocation of an Emmy that was to have been presented to Anacostia's Jennifer Bassey. The Emmy for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Digital Drama Series was originally presented to Patrika Darbo of The Bay. Upon review, it was learned that Darbo had appeared in a previous season of The Bay and was therefore ineligible to compete in the "Guest" category. The decision was made to award the Emmy to the second-place finisher -- Bassey. NATAS was subsequently informed that Bassey's reel contained material from two episodes instead of the maximum one episode, as stated in the rules. Because Bassey was never presented with an Emmy statue, NATAS' official position is that Bassey's Emmy was not revoked. As for the reason that she was ruled ineligible while Nelsen was permitted to keep his Emmy? NATAS states that Anacostia always referred to its installments as "episodes" and therefore violated the rules that an Emmy submission in the "Guest" category could contain material from a single episode.

All of those gray areas led the independent counsel to identify a third area where clarification was needed: better articulation of core policies and procedures. NATAS states that it "will be tasking the Awards team with more specifically documenting and publishing" the procedures for reporting and investigating concerns, guidelines and a checklist for vetting and potentially disqualifying entries, and the process by which accountants and judges are selected.

Many of the concerns regarding ineligibility of nominees in 2018 were submitted to NATAS informally by email.

To avoid the appearance of favoritism, NATAS states that it "will no longer readily grant deadline extensions or other extraordinary exceptions to our rules." There had been reports that some nominees had been permitted to submit their entries past published deadlines. After the end of each Emmy season, NATAS will prepare a "Transparency Report" that will summarize how the rules were enforced over the course of the Emmy competition.

NATAS is also seeking to work more closely with its sister Academy -- the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which oversees the primetime Emmy ceremony. The goal is to get an additional pool of Daytime Emmys voters. There are also a series of plans being put in place to ensure that the panel of voters is not stacked in favor of any particular program or performer.

In the letter sent by the soap representatives, the signees claimed "it was clear during the April 2018 ceremony that the winners were known by many in advance." NATAS strongly denies the allegations and insists that there are extensive steps in place to keep the identity of all winners a secret until the envelopes are opened on-stage on Emmy night. NATAS states that "the speculation about winners being known in advance stems" from several production processes, including the use of mobile cameras that are used to film all of the nominees in the audience. "Multiple interviewees cited mobile cameras moving toward nominees who eventually won as the basis for their belief winners were known in advance," the report stated. NATAS also chalked up some of allegations to its use of "vector seating" that allows multiple nominees to be filmed in a single camera angle.

"We appreciate that the missteps of this and of past years may have impacted some entrants' confidence in the Daytime Emmy Awards, and we are absolutely committed to earning back their trust," NATAS concluded in its statement. "We believe that through these and other improvements, we will once again meet the expectations all participants rightfully have of us."

The investigation by Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth "has uncovered no evidence that category winners are known in advance of the ceremony or more than a few fleeting moments before a winner is announced during the ceremony due to production requirements."

At the time of the original publication of this article, representatives of the four network soaps did not comment on whether or not NATAS has met their requirements to avert a threatened boycott. Requests for comment from those reps were not immediately returned.

The 2019 Daytime Emmys ceremony will be held on Sunday, May 5.

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