Even though television is the primary source of entertainment for millions of people, its most widely enjoyed form of programming, sports, is given scant attention when Emmy Awards are passed out. This spring Emmys were presented in 71 different categories, but only seven went to sports broadcasting. If you know who won them, you are either Jim McKay of ABC, you work one of the tape machines for Wide World of Sports or you held a sound disk for CBS during the Connors-Laver tennis match last February in Las Vegas.
Considering the vociferous viewer discussions provoked by televised sports, to say nothing of the amount of rights fees expended on them, it is bewildering that the networks and their sports departments continue to accede not only to the dearth of sporting Emmys but to the system by which the winners are selected. Perhaps the reason is that Emmy has led a battered existence. Certain segments of the television business still think she belongs on the radiator cap of Jed Clampett's jalopy as it chugs around Beverly Hills. "The Emmys amount to nothing more than an industry honoring itself," CBS' Fred Friendly once said. So many shows have won Emmys after being canceled for low ratings that the award has been referred to as "the kiss after death."
Ratings for the annual Emmy shows and the healthy amount of newspaper coverage given the awards indicate that many people do care who wins. But despite the public interest, it is doubtful that many employees of network sports departments know how the voting works.
It works badly. And that is a shame, because with some overhauling the sports awards could help elevate Emmy's overall prestige. They might even spawn a separate Emmy Sports Show that would reward its audience with reruns of the top performances of the year.
June 22, 1975
Sports have been a regular part of the Emmy derby for only nine years, and the major winners this spring (McKay as the outstanding broadcaster, Wide World as the outstanding taped program and Connors-Laver as the outstanding live event) received less than five minutes of air time during the awards telecast of May 19. The Special Achievement winners (Gene Schwarz of NBC for his technical direction of the 1974 World Series, Herb Altman for his film editing on the Baseball World of Joe Garagiola, NBC's five cameramen for their Stanley Cup coverage and CBS' 1974 Masters crew for its technical direction and camerawork) had their names read by John Wooden. That was it. Not a single sports film clip or taped replay was shown on the program, a dreary affair that could have used plenty of enlivening action footage.
Voting on Emmy sports nominees is clumsy and irrational. "Blue-Ribbon" panelists are asked to be available for screenings all day on both a Saturday and Sunday in May. On those days they are sent scurrying from building to building as 18 sports events, 12 sports programs and the work of 18 announcers are flashed before them. Then they are asked to indicate by written ballot their preferences in each category, from top to bottom—as if the gradation between 17th and 18th could be of any significance. Despite the constant shifts in viewing locations and the dizzying blitz of faces and voices to which each panelist is subjected, no event, show or announcer may be observed for longer than 10 minutes.
Under these conditions bizarre things occur. Apparently gremlins got hold of CBS' presentation on behalf of Announcer Jack Whitaker. For 90 seconds he was shown delivering a commentary on pro basketball. Then the screen went blank. When it finally flickered back on, Whitaker was seen doing the same commentary again. The panelists asked that all of Whitaker's 10 minutes be shown so he could be properly judged. Poor Jack, a good broadcaster who deserved serious Emmy consideration, never reappeared. During ABC's presentation in the announcing category a voice told the panelists that while Chris Schenkel had received a Peabody Award, be had never won an Emmy. Then the hidden voice succeeded in sabotaging whatever chances Schenkel may have had by adding the maudlin and gratuitous statement that the Emmy "is very close to his heart."
Even without the complications of the hectic viewing schedule, it would have been impossible for the panelists to compare Joe Garagiola's 15-minute Baseball World to ABC's hour-and-a-half-long Wide World in the sports programming category. It is equally unfair to put up a one-shot game like NBC's Oakland-Miami AFC playoff against the entire 14-game series of Monday Night Football telecasts. Judging announcers who work on tape against those doing games live is an insult to all serious broadcast journalists. Tim Ryan's announcing of the Stanley Cup should not be measured against a pre-scripted and taped show such as Public Broadcasting's The Way It Was.
If the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences would take the time to devise a set of proper categories covering the variety of events and techniques involved in sports programming, a marvelous awards show could be presented. Unlike most other forms of programming, sports do not have rerun seasons, and the good works just evaporate without a chance for a second look. An Emmy Sports Show would provide the opportunity to give the best sportscasting the encore it deserves. But as long as the sports departments of the networks allow their efforts to be so shabbily judged, that day is never likely to come.