Reality succeeds in tempting Emmys

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is convinced that reality programming is legit enough to warrant the creation of two new Emmy area award categories. But not everyone agrees.
February 21, 2001

With a nod to reality programming producers, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences board of governors has approved the creation of two new non-fiction award categories. The first (Outstanding Non-Fiction Programming -Reality) is for ‘programming that depicts people and/or events in dramatic circumstances with the primary intent to entertain,’ excluding shows with game show, prize and/or contest elements. The second category (Outstanding Non-Fiction Programming – Special Class) is a catch-all for all programs that do not fall into the above mentioned reality area, non-fiction special (informational) or non-fiction series (informational) categories – essentially reality shows with a contest element.

Teri Koenig, co-chair of the ATAS non-fiction peer group and board member, says the pitch to create an award category recognizing reality programming has been on the books for a long time, but received a boost from the recent reality boom. ‘You can’t have Cops competing with Ken Burns,’ she says.

When the proposal was initially put to the board in January, the idea was rejected. However, when it was re-presented at the February board meeting, with a retooled and refined definition of reality programming, it went through in time for inclusion in this year’s awards ceremony in September.

Not everyone is rejoicing. Erik Nelson, president of Studio City, U.S.-based Termite Art Productions, says, ‘The only reason they created this category is so they have some excuse to give Survivor an award.’ No offence to the panel, but ultimately the beauty of the reality genre is that it isn’t clear cut and there aren’t any rules or strict definitions. So, to try to create an all-encompassing category is ultimately going to be futile.’ Termite has produced such programs as Incredible Vacation Videos, Busted on the Job and Wild Rescues.

In defence of the new factual Emmys, non-fiction peer group co-chair and board member Mark Kozaki (who is also senior VP of administration and operations for Discovery U.S.) notes that both categories are area awards. This means that each nominee is considered based on its own merit, without regard to the other nominees, so vastly different shows can be nominated in the same category without competing against one other. In theory, there can be zero, one or more than one winner.

However, some doc-makers simply cannot reconcile themselves to the thought of their non-fiction programming being lumped together with reality shows. says Jean Horton Garner, senior vice president of Ojai, U.S.-based Thomas Horton Associates, ‘They’re about as factual as The Truman Show – the only difference there is that Truman was an unwitting nouveau celebrity and chose to leave his own show when he realized his world was not real.’

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