Steve Sohmer, once called the “P.T. Barnum of television,” hopes to put dazzle and showmanship back into tonight’s 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony.
Sohmer is noted for his sizzling, ratings-raising promotion campaigns--first at CBS, then at top-ranked NBC and now as an independent producer.
“What are the Emmys?” Sohmer said. “They’re about success, stars, clothes--particularly women’s clothes--comedy, tension and emotions. I really want to put show business back into the show and get away from the self-congratulations and the inside things.”
The ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium will be broadcast by Fox, with Dennis Miller, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jerry Seinfeld scheduled as co-hosts.
Expected to be big winners are NBC’s “Cheers” and “L.A. Law,” and CBS’ “Murphy Brown” all with 13 nominations each, followed by the HBO movie “The Josephine Baker Story,” with 12 nominations.
Also up for top honors are the syndicated series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the CBS special “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and the live broadcast of the 63rd Annual Academy Awards show on ABC.
You won’t find recent Emmycasts winning many awards. The ceremony--a TV show about TV’s best--has been less than best itself, and Sohmer has set out to redefine things.
“I hope the Emmys will perform the magical thing they’ve done in the past by pointing out shows the public has not quite discovered,” he said.
“ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘Cheers’ and ‘St. Elsewhere’ were all marginal shows that won a pile of Emmys and then became hits. Look at ‘Murphy Brown’ last year. That’s a way the entertainment industry can say to the public, ‘Hey, here’s a good one you missed.’ When that recognition can be converted into popularity, that’s gratifying.
“I want to bring all my skills for promotion to bear on this and turn the Emmys into a must-see event--and promote it aggressively. Everybody knows what the Emmys (show) is. We have to get people to watch it, and design it so that people enjoy it.”
A former president of Columbia Pictures and best-selling novelist, Sohmer was recommended as Emmy producer by former NBC Chairman Grant Tinker, who felt he would bring a fresh creative approach to the show.
Sohmer ran the promotion department at NBC during its rise from third to first place in the ratings. Later, his best-selling book “Favorite Son” was a highly rated NBC miniseries and became the basis for the series “Mancuso, FBI” in 1989.
This will be the fourth year the Emmys have been carried by the fledgling Fox network and the ratings have been falling steadily, partly because Fox reaches a smaller audience than ABC, CBS or NBC.
The 1990 Emmy telecast, which had a rating of 8.2 and an audience share of 14 percent, was the lowest-rated in the history of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The year before, the rating was 11.4, also a dismal showing.
“We’re running the Emmys early this year to get away from the start of the television season,” Sohmer said. “Networks have always counterprogrammed against it. They forced the audience to choose between the Emmys and a new miniseries.”
After his selection as producer, Sohmer looked at tapes of recent Emmy telecasts.
“I wanted to pull together the most imaginative ideas and add some of my own,” he said. “The key word this year is entertainment. This should be a real celebration of television. We want an entertaining show and to remind viewers of the wonderful things they’ve seen on television in the past.”
The Emmy Awards air tonight at 8 on Fox.