What an embarrassment.
When the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences handed out its Emmy nominations this week, it found itself bestowing nine of them on the film industry's 1990 Academy Awards show.
By contrast, the Emmy Awards show has become almost invisible since moving to the small Fox Broadcasting network, where only 14% of the nation's viewers tuned in last year.
To put it bluntly: Have the Emmys become much ado about nothing? Are they now a meaningless non-event?
If the Emmy Awards don't return to one of the Big Three networks, where they are guaranteed a bigger audience, wouldn't it be better to save face by just having a banquet to honor those in the industry?
Well, of course, that won't happen because the awards broadcast is the TV academy's biggest source of income--and because the show that honors TV's best really belongs on TV.
Thus, the pressure on Fox and the academy to improve their ratings performance is great this year as they prepare to broadcast the 43rd annual Emmy Awards show Aug. 25 from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Possibly Fox can look to itself--and CBS--for helpful clues, because both networks are showing that summer TV programming can be attractive if the lure is substantial and the promotion is shrewdly concocted.
Fox, for instance, has switched to an around-the-year schedule of series premieres. And when it got behind its returning drama series "Beverly Hills, 90210" just days ago for a highly promoted summer launching, the ratings results were impressive.
CBS, meanwhile, is showing some real imagination in trying to hold viewers and stop them from defecting to original cable programs during the networks' traditional off-season.
Just this week, CBS began a Stephen King summer series, "Golden Years," with solid ratings. Last Saturday, it presented the Spike Lee movie "Do the Right Thing," which, despite poor ratings, nonetheless was not your usual network fare.
Just weeks ago, CBS put on prime-time Sunday night reruns of the classic series "All in the Family," and they drew appreciative and sizable audiences.
On Wednesday, CBS will offer two more intriguing summer entries. One is reruns of the cult TV series "Police Squad!," which stars Leslie Nielsen and led to the "Naked Gun" films. The other is an off-the-wall, original series from Rob Reiner, "Morton & Hayes," in which the director, tongue-in-cheek, portrays a TV host who introduces black-and-white films by a fictional, old slapstick comedy team.
In addition, this summer has proved to be a time of blossoming for the ratings of the CBS series "Northern Exposure," one of the most delightful new programs in years. "Northern Exposure," which is about a young New York doctor who moves to a small town in Alaska, was nominated for best drama series at the Emmy ceremonies Thursday.
In sum, while Fox and the other networks were talking about the importance of summer programming, CBS was moving swiftly ahead.
The doormat of prime-time TV for the past few years, CBS not only had a surprising comeback last season but now has won the ratings for four consecutive weeks and is gaining momentum for fall, when it hopes to bolt into first place.
CBS' new team of entertainment division president Jeff Sagansky and his top aide, Peter Tortorici, seems to have a feel for stepping lightfootedly through the quicksand of today's fierce TV competition--especially with effective counterprogramming.
Their retrospectives of "All in the Family," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show" were highlights of the past season. And they recently showed some more moxie and sleight-of-hand showmanship by presenting the Daytime Emmy Awards as a prime-time CBS special. The result was yet another major, summer ratings victory.
This particular special further embarrassed the TV academy and Fox because the audience was far bigger than the number of viewers who tuned in Fox's Emmy Awards show for prime-time achievement last summer.
CBS' entertainment resurgence is utterly critical for the embattled network, which is hurting almost everywhere else and just reported a two-thirds drop in profits for the first half of the year.
This summer is not only proving to be a key part of the CBS resurgence, but is also a reminder of the prophetic words of ABC founder Leonard Goldenson in January.
"You know," Goldenson said, "I grew up in the motion picture industry, and in the summertime motion pictures were dead. They only waited till the fall to open the fall-winter season. But a little thing called air-conditioning came along (and) all of a sudden motion pictures became highly important in the summertime.
"I'd make the same analogy here. Basically, we have got to find a way in the summertime for television to do something that will definitely take hold (with) the public. We're giving it away in the summertime."
The fight to get the TV audience all around the year is heightening. HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story," which landed 12 Emmy nominations Thursday, was surely helped by the pay-cable company's strategy of making the tape of the show available to TV academy members through a video rental chain, says HBO spokesman Richard Licata.
The TV academy concedes that the Emmy Awards broadcast fell on its face last year. "How could we hide it?" academy president Leo Chaloukian has said.
After the low ratings and a barrage of criticism of the 1990 show, the academy formed a committee to "rethink, redesign and review many aspects of the awards and the telecast" to assure its "revitalizing" and its "acceptance" in the future.
"Fox admitted they dropped the ball," Chaloukian said months ago. "They were tied up with two new nights of programming." But he added that the academy had "assurances right up to (Fox chairman) Barry Diller" that things would improve.
Not that the Emmy Awards show can win an Emmy. It can't, says John Leverence, the TV academy's awards director: "It's not eligible. It would seem like a conflict of interest."
But the Emmy show can at least be good and draw an audience big enough to justify its existence. If the Aug. 25 telecast proves otherwise, the TV academy, which has a brand new plaza in North Hollywood celebrating Emmy and its history, will have to make some hard decisions.