GEORGE SCHLATTER : Critics’ Choices


Is there enough room, let alone interest, on television for two awards shows honoring the best in the medium? ABC thinks so. Not only is ABC presenting the annual Emmy Awards in September, on Monday the network introduces yet another ceremony: the American Television Awards.

A “celebration of the best prime-time programming and performances from April 13, 1992 to April 12, 1993,” the American Television Awards are selected by professional television viewers, including critics, columnists and journalists who regularly write about the medium.

Awards will be presented in 21 categories including drama, comedy, news, made-for-TV movies, reality, miniseries and variety. “Homefront,” “Homicide: A Life on the Street,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Northern Exposure” and “Picket Fences” are nominated for best dramatic series. Nominees for best situation comedy series are “Cheers,” “Murphy Brown,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Roseanne” and “Seinfeld.”


George Schlatter, who created “Laugh-In,” “Real People” and the American Comedy Awards, is the creator and producer of the American Television Awards. He discussed his new venture with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

Can you talk about the genesis of the American Television Awards?

I said, “Why don’t we do a show that, instead of a satirical look at television, is a celebration, a congratulatory look at television.” There’s a lot wrong with television. There’s a lot of sex and violence, a lot of trash. But on the next channel over you can find information, travel, news, education, art, culture. It also has an on-and-off switch. That’s the great thing about television: You can turn it off or you can change channels. It’s amazing how much wonderful stuff there is on TV all day and night. The casual viewer of television today is exposed to more art, culture, information and show business than the professional of 20 years ago.

I believe that a show that surveys opinions is welcome. I think it can be good for the industry. That is the goal. There is nothing wrong with the Emmys.

What is the difference between the American Television Awards and the Emmys?

I think they are two totally different shows, two totally different approaches. We are not as interested that much in a competition between shows and performers as we are in really celebrating television in general.

Have you had any negative response about the American Television Awards from either the other three networks or the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences?

The other three networks were somewhat upset when ABC bought this show and the Emmys. Hopefully, this conflict between ABC and the other three networks will subside. We will see how that affects this. I hope to avoid becoming involved in that. I think if we are successful this show will be good for TV. It won’t conflict with the Emmys. I think anything that says something good about television is good for us all. I wouldn’t give up the Emmys I have for nothing, or the Golden Globes I have, or the Image Awards. They are all wonderful.

How many TV writers did you survey?

We surveyed 400. That’s a cross-section geographically, economically, ethnically, politically-- everything from Rolling Stone to the Christian Science Monitor to the New York Times. I think it is an interesting group which is being surveyed. I think the results of the survey indicate they really paid attention to the task at hand and came up with interesting observations.

The response of journalists, critics and television commentators was enormous. I mean they really responded. The nominations are great and they are not just top Nielsen. “Quantum Leap” is in there, “I’ll Fly Away”-- a lot of shows which are just quality television.

What we are doing is less of a competition. We are not even going to have an envelope. We are going to focus more on the behind-the-scenes and focus more on the people who are the favorites.

We are not an academy. Nobody joins an organization or pays dues or pays an entrance fee. The judgments are made by professional television watchers who watch TV full time for a living all year long. They vote by themselves. They see TV as it is meant to be seen, one show at a time over a period of a year rather than a focused weekend. They have no other interest other than the quality of television. It is very difficult for people in the industry to ignore their allegiances to studios or agencies or network or clients. I know they try to be impartial, but this group is totally impartial because you cannot be affected by a public relations campaign or advertising or phone calls or friends. I think the nominations reflect that the people taking part in this survey are just interested in the quality of television. There is nothing wrong with any other process. But this one is different.

How will you announce the winners?

We will introduce them and they will come out. There will be different ways of presenting the award and different ways of doing the acceptance. Not that there is anything wrong with the way it is done (on other shows); it is just I would like to see if there is another form of presentation. What I would like to focus on more than clips we have seen before is stories about the show we haven’t seen before. We will do some acceptances and some clips, but I would like for the show to appear to be a different approach to an awards show because most of them are all alike.

“The American Television Awards” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.