By the time most people think about the Emmys, it’s because they’re watching stars parading down a red carpet and the glitz and glamour of the awards show are in full effect. What people don’t see is the intricate process that precedes the big night. I myself wasn’t aware of just how much went into creating, vetting and voting on the categories that make up the Emmys until I joined the Television Academy. I’ve delved even further into the process since becoming a member of the Peer Group Executive Committee, and then even further by being elected Governor for the Production Designer’s Peer Group. As Governor, I have a bit of a backstage pass at the moment, so I thought some of you might find it interesting to get a little behind-the-scenes look at the planning and thought that go into a big awards process like the Emmys.
Myself and Barbara Cassel (who is a wonderful Set Decorator most notable for her beautiful work on “Scandal”) make up the two governors of our peer group, and we’re supported by 10 committee members (five production designers/art directors and five set decorators) known as the peer group executive committee (PGEC). These Academy peer groups exist for each recognized craft in the Academy (editors, sound mixers, directors, etc.), and together we propose new updates to legislation, discuss them at length and ultimately vote on them. It’s both stressful and exciting. Above all, our job at the Production Design Peer Group is to make sure that the awards categories are relevant and truly representative of the field. The ultimate goal for each group is to uphold the value and distinction of the Emmy award itself as the most prestigious award there is in the craft. Make no mistake: when you’re responsible for giving away Emmy trophies, you have to remember that these things are truly a CAREER-CHANGER for those who win. It’s absolutely critical that these trophies find themselves in the RIGHT hands, and that everyone deserving has the opportunity to be considered for the award.
It’s our peer group’s job to decide if the submissions for each category and the categories themselves at the Television Academy for Outstanding Production Design reflect the real world of production design as it operates and exists today. For the last 35 years, these categories have remained largely unchanged, so it has been a top priority for the last four years to “modernize” the current categories. We wanted to modify existing awards and/or create whole new categories if absolutely necessary. Remember, the more there are, the less effective they are. Less is More. Last year, out of extreme need, I’m proud to say we were able to secure a new category: Outstanding Achievement in Production Design for a Variety Series.
This year we made a couple of smaller, yet effective, changes in the Production Design category.
One of these changes is how we define a “Period” piece. The term “Period” had previously been measured with a benchmark of 25 years or older. We ran into a big issue last year when looking at The People v. O.J. Simpson using this benchmark. Many argued that this work was a period piece and that the creative team looked back and did careful research on a certain era, copying specific styles of decor, architecture, and even fashion. The time being portrayed was 1994, so, technically, less than 25 years ago. The People v. O.J. Simpson therefore fell under the contemporary category, which felt like a diminishment of the historical research and execution the Art Dept. team carried out for the project. As a governing body, we decided to change the “Period” benchmark to 20 years. Times are changing quickly and it’s important for us to reflect this in how we define eras in production design.
Looking beyond our production design categories, the Television Academy’s latest round of updates this year did a nice job of embracing interactive digital media, reality content, and new forms of television seen in places like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Two particular changes I love and feel are totally appropriate/long overdue: 1.) a new Outstanding Casting for a Reality Production award and 2.) a new Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Half-Hour Series award.
As always, there were other peer groups asking for additional categories that ultimately got shot down. There were a couple that I would’ve liked to have seen added that weren’t, but that’s usually the case. The updates that were enacted are smart, relevant changes that we’re tremendously proud of. It feels incredible to keep the esteemed Emmy tradition alive.
When you have a role like Governor at the Television Academy, it’s so important to understand how television - and more intimately - how your craft, works. Sheesh, I guess I could call myself an expert in TV, and I’m learning more every day to continue to make the appropriate changes via our PGEC. The Emmy award is a powerful force in the world of entertainment (and beyond), and it demands the highest level of respect and consideration. I can attest to the fact that when I won the trophy, it changed my life. I don’t rest my laurels on it (I’m still working non-stop, every, single day), but it IS a game-changer. Approaching this role haphazardly would be catastrophic and would devalue the honor and prestige of the Emmys. This is something we take into account and weigh very seriously when making our decisions.