Late-Night Emmy Fight With TV Academy Heats Up, Networks Petition Over Category Changes With Some Considering Boycott

EXCLUSIVE: The Television Academy’s decision to merge the late-night and sketch series categories at this year’s Emmy Awards is coming under fresh fire as networks and showrunners have joined forces to lobby for a reversal of the changes.

Deadline understands that broadcast networks including ABC, CBS and NBC as well as cable nets including Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime are among those petitioning the TV Academy following the changes unveiled in December.

A joint letter is being drafted to be sent to the Academy, with signatories likely to include network executives and showrunners. The letter, set to go out later this week, is expected to express disappointment in the changes and highlight a willingness to open a conversation about the situation.

Depending on the outcome from the letter, some late-night players are even suggesting a threat to boycott the Emmys entirely.

The changes, which were revealed at the start of December, mean that sketch shows such as Saturday Night Live and A Black Lady Sketch Show are going to be competing to be nominated in the same category as the likes of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. 

This means that at least one of TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will likely miss out and possibly more if SNL is nominated.

It is also a blow for shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with James Corden and Late Night with Seth Meyers, which have been hoping to get into the running for nominations, while it will also likely hit emerging shows, most of which are more diverse than the current crop. Showtime’s Desus & Mero has hit its stride during the pandemic and would have likely been in the conversation, while A Little Late with Lilly Singh and Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show are also contenders with the possibility that HBO’s upcoming show with Sam Jay and Showtime’s series with Ziwe launch in time for eligibility.

“Where is the room for a Desus & Mero or an Amber Ruffin, some of these people who may not get the same exposure,” said one late-night source. “The voices that get crowded out when you reduce the opportunities are emerging, inclusive voices.”

“What’s sad is that it’s just going to be the same old people,” added another source.

All of the late-night showrunners that Deadline has spoken to have expressed their frustration with the changes with varying degrees of anger. One suggested that if the Academy is unwilling to revert the changes, then, at least they could expand the number of nominations to eight. The nightly shows would prefer, and many were expecting, that the category would be split between nightly shows and weekly shows.

There is, in some quarters, talk of boycotting Emmy entry, which would be a major loss for awards season. Apart from the millions of dollars that these shows spend to promote their FYC campaigns, the late-night shows are also some of the most high-profile broadcast series in the Emmy conversation and the event itself is generally hosted by a late-night host.

CBS is airing the event this year and it’s unclear whether any of the ViacomCBS stable of hosts, including Stephen Colbert, James Corden or Trevor Noah would be prepared to host as a result. The former hosted in 2017 when CBS last aired the event, while the latter is hosting the Grammys in March.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it; you can’t want the late-night hosts to be the presenters of the Emmys and then cut them out of the awards,” said one source.

There is already a feeling among some of the broadcast network execs that airing the Emmys is essentially a three-hour advert for its viewers to check out shows on rival cable networks and streaming services so treating their late-night hosts in this way has not gone down well.

Showrunners are, however, also torn as to whether to go with the nuclear option given that the Emmys can be a significant measure of the hard work of a show’s staff, as well as the fact that there are more important things going on in the world right now.

The late-night hosts have stepped up during the pandemic. Many, if not all, personally paid for staff wages out of their own pockets when their shows were shutdown and they rallied to ensure that these shows returned quickly, providing hundreds of employees with work during the crisis, as well as entertaining viewers, from their own homes. “It’s just very disheartening,” added one showrunner.

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