In 1977, because snitty bickering between the Hollywood and New York factions of the TV Academy reached a new pitch of schismatic feverishness, it looked for awhile like there wouldn't be any Emmy Awards television show that year. Imagine what a catastrophe for the nation that would have been.
Or, would anyone not in the Hollywood or New York chapters of the TV Academy have noticed?
We may never know because Hollywood won - as it so often does - and the awards went on, though delayed until September. Tonight the Academy celebrates the first anniversary of that titanic tiff and, as well, the 30th anniversary of the Emmy Awards themselves, with an orgy of self-loving scheduled for 8:30 on CBS (Channel 9) and destined, by tradition or by curse, to run until at least 11:30.
Viewer interest in the Emmys never runs exactly rampant, and competition day night is ferociously fierce. "Dumbo" and "King Kong" - a flying elephant and a giant ape - will be teaming up in a one-two punch on three-hour premiere of its much-heralded, expensively explosive "Battlestar Galactica," It is virtually a certainty that the Emmys will come in last in the ratings.
Alexander H. Cohen, the veteran the artical impressario who is producing the Emmy show for CBS, is anything but petrified at the thought of a trouncing, however. "I don't know the first thing about ratings. I don't know what a rating is, and I couldn't careless."
Cohen and his wife and partner Hildy Parks have been working on the Emmy show for three months; previously they produced such TV spectaculars as the Tony Awards and, early this year, the week-long CBS 50th Anniversary celebration. From the way Cohen talks, it sounds as though he has instituted reforms in the Emmython which can't help making it a better show, though, alas, not necessarily a shorter one. Last year, Dick Van Dyke got an ovation from the Hollywood crowd when near the end of the third hour of pass-the-plaque he groaned into the microphone, "I'm hungry," . In the East it was midnight but in L.A. only 9 p.m., and the folks handing awards to one another hadn't had dinner yet. Poor babies.
"Getting off the air 'on-time to me would mean a three-hour show, even though it's scheduled for 2 1/2 hours," Cohen said. "If we come in at three, I will be very grateful."
To accomplish this, Cohen has instituted time-saving procedures. For one thing, we will not be treated to the ridiculous spectacle of one star being introduced only for the purpose of introducing another star.
"You will not see duets, couples, entering together and engaging in a kind characterize as mindless," said Cohen. "This show will be completely scripted and" - here comes the REALLY revolutionary part - "there will be no cue cards. Everyone will have committed their parts to memory. I don't believe the people of television, on their one night of the year, should be perceived to be reading off, very slowly, 'Myyy deeer friennnd, Care-ole Burrnett.' That has been an embarrassment for years."
Didn't he get adamant refusals from some of the stars to comply with his new rule?" Only from those no longer appearing on the show," Cohen said. "Actually, with one or two exceptions, most of them as pleased about it. Once you wean them away from those cue cards, they're actually grateful. They are professionals, after all."
Among the announced participants: Walter Cronkite, Alex Haley, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin, LeVar Burton, Steve Martin, Cicely Tyson, Henry Winkler, Julia Child and Chevy Chase.
And, of course, Care-old Burrr-nett. In fact, there will be a five-minute tribute to Burnett and her show, which is no longer on the air.
Before the night is over, Cohen will have to see to it that no less than 40 separate awards are given out. This is a process only slightly less arduous than going to Detroit by bus. But Cohen has some tricks up his sleeve. If a TV comedy show written by 14 people is nominated and wins an award, all the writers' names will be superimposed on the screen rather than being read off by the presenter once or, as in the past, even twice. Cohen also plans to "compartmentalize" the awards, lumping categories together in blocks of time - comedy shows, specials, dramas and music and variety program.
Elaborate in introduction of lovely ladies and handsome men will also be curtailed. "Since these people are members of the viewer's own family," said Cohen, "they require no introuction. And consequently, they'r no going to get any.
"Our view of this show is that it is a matter of substance over effects," Cohen said. "Conceptually, this is abackstage look at television on the 30th anniversary of the Emmy awards - a mature look at what we've accomplished, presentations, observations, questions and concerns about the medium of television itself and what we do with it.
"We're going to use test patterns and color bars and things like that; we'll have a working control room right on the stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium so people will get a real feeling of television happening. What I'm trying to avoid is the show's not having a point of view. We are a bright people in television, a much maligned people, and we are certainly brighter than we look at the annual Emmy Awards."
One ritual that always accompanies the Emmy show is the announcement that the awards procedure has been "restructured" and simplified. This is always a load of baloney. There continue to be far, far too many award categories and the good people of television cling to the notion that not one among them should go unrecognized. Actually, it's a sign of TV's continuing inferiority complex; if more people took more pride in working in television, the industry wouldn't need such an elaborate, exhaustive and slef-defeating Battlestar Apoligia for itself.
The "Creative Arts Emmy Awards" have already been presented. Most of these involve technical work on individual shows, with the category titles getting as symptomatically unwieldy as "Outstanding Achievement in Any Area of Creative Technical Crafts - An Award for Individual Technical Craft Achievement Which Does Not Fall into a specific Category and Is Not Otherwise Recognized."
Perhaps there should be an Emmy Award each year for the one person in television who was not nominated for an Emmy Award.
Johnny Carson, who deserves to win an Emmy every single year but, because of the bizarre bedfellows arbitrarily huddled in the various categories, rarely does, once declined to appear on another awards show, Procter & Gamble's bombastic "People's Choice Awards," with words that should live in marble near the TV Academy's front door. "We in the entertainment industry honor ourselves too frequently,Johnny said.
Cohen himself is a man who believes that television today does not sustain the level of excellence nor hit the exhilarating highs it registered during the era of live drama and anthology series in the '50s. Still, "I'm absolutely a television-watcher," he says. "It's just that I'm selective. 'King.' 'Holocaust.' There's some wonderfull stuff ther, if you look for it."
Although he growls with enthusiasm when discussing improvements he's making in the Emmy Awards show, Cohen does confess it is not the honor of a lifetime to be its producer. Asked if he has ever produced the Emmys before he says, "No, and I never will again." Then he coughs. Is it the smog in L.A.? "No," says Cohen, his cough becoming a laugh, "I'm choking to death on the Emmys."