Here’s some news that might even lift Oscar le Grouch’s spirits: The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has created two new Emmy categories for puppet performance and puppet design/styling. Both awards will be presented at this year’s second Children & Family Emmy Awards.
“Historically, puppet performers would fall into the live acting categories,” NATAS CEO Adam Sharp said in announcing the new competition. “So if you were the manager of a puppet, you’d be up against a lead actor or a lead actress, and that would create some weird pairings. But managing a puppet is a very different type of performance than an ordinary live performance.
Back when children’s programming was awarded at the Daytime Emmys, it was usually in the “outstanding lead performance in a children’s show” category (which has gone through several name changes over the years). In 2021, for example, “Sesame Street” puppeteer Ryan Dillon went up against actors like this year’s winner, “The Healing Powers of Dude” star Jace Chapman. However, the creation of a standalone Children and Family Emmy gave the puppets and their human masters their due.
“It really goes to the heart of the Kids and Family competition,” said Sharp. “I look at these categories and I don’t think they could exist in any other Emmy competition.”
However, the puppets aren’t the only thing on Sharp’s mind. The boss of NATAS spoke to Variety on a wide range of issues, including further changes to this year’s Children and Family Emmys, as well as an update on when the Daytime Emmys — originally scheduled for June, but postponed following the WGA strike — could take place now that SAG-AFTRA is also on strike.
But the primary reason for registering with Sharp is the release of NATAS’ latest Transparency Report, covering any disqualifications, judging improprieties/irregularities, eligibility issues, or category reassignments that occurred in 2022 for the Emmys it administers through peer review panels: Daytime, Children’s & Family, News & Documentary, and Sports.
NATAS first launched a transparency report in 2019, following a Daytime Emmy Awards debacle in 2018 that rocked the organization and led to a boycott threat by major daytime soap operas. Sharp joined the organization amid this scandal and began a reform process that included the report.
NATAS uses a methodology to identify potential Daytime Emmys judging improprieties, including algorithms that examine potential coordination, bias, or manipulation. Last year, the ballots of five judges were disqualified at the Daytime Emmys when it was determined that their scoring schemes deliberately skewed the results. Similarly, ballots for five judges for the Sports Emmys were also removed. A total of 28 judges’ ballots across NATAS shows were reported and reviewed in 2022.
This year’s Transparency Report also detailed the inner workings of how NATAS and its counterparts at the Los Angeles-based TV Academy determined whether programs were eligible for the Daytime, Primetime, or Children’s & Family Emmys. For example, two daytime submissions were disqualified because they were rated TV-MA – which is not allowed in this competition. In the News & Doc competition, several questions were raised regarding the eligibility of documentaries, as many had been screened at festivals, for example.
Additionally, the report details why certain categories had more nominations, including two-way or three-way ties for fifth place (NATAS practice is not to break the tie). In Best Documentary at the News & Doc Emmys, there were 10 nominations “due to viable scores and quantity of entries in the category”.
“The purpose of this report is to take a look under the hood,” Sharp said. “A lot of what we do and what any awards contest does in our space can sometimes seem arbitrary to the audience or even to the participants: ‘Why didn’t my show enter or why did it enter this category?’ And when things seem arbitrary, it reduces trust, and trust is essential to our business.
“At a time when public trust in institutions – and in bureaucratic processes in general – seems to be at an all-time low from generation to generation, this is increasingly forcing organizations like ours to do their homework and be more transparent,” he added. “To build that trust and demonstrate how we officiate those competitions so people can have confidence in how that result was achieved.”
The Transparency Report also once again details the demographics of the judges for each NATAS Emmy competition, and where the recruitment process needs further improvement. It’s most noticeable at the Sports Emmys, where 80% of the judges are white, 68% are male, and 90% identify as straight.
In the News & Doc Emmys, the judges were 54% female/44% male/2% non-binary, none or unspecified; 66% White/9% Black/10% Asian/5% Multiracial/1% Latino; 77% straight/8% gay or lesbian/3% bisexual/2% queer/10% diverse or no response.
And for the Daytime Emmys, 48% male/51% female/others don’t have sex or are responding now; 66% white/15% black/5% Asian/2% multiracial/1% Latino; 73% straight/15% gay or lesbian/4% asexual, pansexual or questioning/1% queer/7% no answer or none.
“An essential part of the Transparency Report is the survey of our judges, who are not required to respond – but most do,” Sharp said. “The intention is to create more representative panels and more inclusive panels to judge. But as you see in the results, it’s a bit of a mirror of the industry that we represent. Sport is always a bit more white, straight and male biased, while Daytime, Children’s and News and Doc tend to be more diverse. We hope to shine a light on the importance of inclusion as a component of excellence in the industry. And that serves as a reflection of progress or lack thereof. in the industry and a bit of benchmark each year to help drive the industry forward.
Meanwhile, Sharp also provided an update on the state of the Daytime Emmys: As of now, there’s still no plan for when to hold the Daytime Emmys and creative arts-related ceremonies. NATAS announced in May that this year’s 50th Daytime Emmys would move from their scheduled June 16 ceremony to an undetermined later date. At the time, Sharp said he had hoped to hold the telecast in October. But with no sign of resolution in the WGA or SAG-AFTRA strikes, it’s unclear now when that might go.
With the News & Doc Emmys in September and the Children’s & Family Emmys in December, NATAS also has to navigate its own schedule. And then there’s the competition cycle for the 2024 Daytime Emmys, which this year’s postponed ceremony may soon meet.
“We typically release the category preview in December and open registration in January,” Sharp said. “So if we skip the holidays, we enter the next cycle of competition. Once we start to get into the holiday season, the window closes somewhat for the postponement. Otherwise, we’re closer to the next show than we were to the last. But at the moment we don’t have a date and without a date we don’t have a place. So even if the white smoke rises tomorrow that everything is resolved, it will take some time to secure a new space, reconfigure the set for this space and do everything to achieve it. We think there is still a window there in the middle of autumn. But it’s shrinking. And that’s worrying. »
Back to these additions to the Kids & Family category. For puppet performances and puppet design/styling, NATAS will also allow from next year to include a “behind the scenes” video that “highlights the human with the puppet(s), demonstrating how the puppet comes to life, etc. The intention is to find judges for these two very specific categories who have experience in producing, writing, directing, performing, puppetry and puppet design, as well as educating the judges on the intricacies of the categories.
The Children’s & Family Emmys also added a Public Service Initiative Emmy for campaigns that include both an on-air and off-air component.
“NATAS used to give a whole series of Emmy Awards for public service, its own stand-alone ceremony that the Academy pulled out during the economic downturn of 2008/2009,” Sharp said. “We have long wanted to bring some kind of community service public service recognition back to the national awards. So last year we introduced a public service content category for the Sports Emmys. And now we are introducing this category of community service initiative for children and family. I am very happy to see what falls into this category and to be able to recognize excellence in these efforts.