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How the Emmys could be new and different in their 67th year

Andy Samberg, star of Fox's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," will

Andy Samberg, star of Fox's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," will host the 67th annual Emmys telecast on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. Credit: AP / Jason DeCrow

The Emmys are upon us, or will be this Sunday (on Fox, hosted by Andy Samberg). This week, I'll take a look at a few key races.

But before we get to those, something a little different to start us off: The Emmys may be about to get interesting.

I know -- a radical, perhaps even hyperbolic overstatement.

"Emmys." "Interesting." Those words were last conjoined ... not sure when, but I'll get back to you on that.

In fact, every year at this time, readers like you are burdened with lists (by writers like me, for example) declaring who should win, or who will win. Those lists (or at least my lists) are invariably wrong. The reason is that these predictions are exercises in subjective guesswork, unbound by a basis in real world voting patterns or real world Emmy rules, arcane as those can be or have been.

But something very different is about to occur -- the 67th annual Emmys have adopted a set of new rules that could -- emphasis on the word "could" -- change everything, or at least change what tends to be so numbingly predictable about the Emmys, or that gnawing sense among some viewers that the Emmy winners who do walk home (or drive, rather, via limo) with a nice statue should probably not have won that statue.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what Bruce Rosenblum, TV Academy chief, said at the recent news tour: "This is the first year that our entire membership base, over 20,000 members, are able to vote in ... the program categories and for best comedy and for best drama. So we're not limited to the blue ribbon panels. We've opened it up. Our membership is much more diverse. It's younger. And you may see some different shows. I think you saw different shows this year being nominated. You may see some different shows and different people walking away with the trophies this year because of the voting change."

Part of the soul search that the TV Academy just went through was probably in some measure forced by TV ratings, which continue to decline for TV's most prestigious awards program (Fox has it Sunday).

Lots of reasons for that decline but quite possibly one in particular: If viewers don't think the awards are fair or representative, then why bother watching?

Let's sort through a few of the new changes and parse the potential real world change:

* The end of the blue ribbon panels:  Show winners have long been chosen by a small group of members (comprised of a couple to a few dozen) who have the time to sit at home or wherever to watch all the episodes that the finalists submitted. These panels have been abolished, and as Rosenblum said, all "eligible members" can now vote for the winners. The advantage to the panels were obvious -- dedicated members could take the time to carefully sort out who should win, and in this very busy industry, who has time anyway?

The disadvantage: Emmy voters felt both disenfranchised at the end of the process and wondered whether these blue ribbon panels were indeed representative of their interests. The suspicion has long been that if someone has the time to watch everything, then they were either unemployed or retired. If retired, that meant older. And if older, the suspicion was that their tastes were more conservative.

By throwing this open to the entire membership, the assumption now is that the vox populi will decide.

Possible ramification: This could challenge "Modern Family's" chances of shattering the record -- and picking up a sixth straight win. Already one show deemed middlebrow by some members -- "The Big Bang Theory" -- failed to make the finalists' cut. Could something New and Different and Streaming get a shot now? (Like ..."Transparent")

 * The Emmys have gone all modern -- and online. Episodes are no longer sent to voting members but they instead can be watched online. Votes are also submitted online. Paper ballots? Those are gone, too. Everything this year will done via computer.

Will all those voting members, 20,000 strong, watch all the submitted episodes? That's inconceivable. Here's what Rosenblum said: "On the show category, people will say online when they watch it they've watched at least one of the episodes. We will make available online all of the episodes that have been submitted for that competition. The online way to watch this is seamless and very convenient, and I think we will have expanded the membership's voting in the show categories to a point where having watched one episode, two episodes, or six episodes should not make a difference in that final outcome."

Possible ramification: This is a fraught area, needless to say. What people SAY they watched and what people REALLY watched in the final voting round could be two different things, of course. And is one episode really representative of an entire season?

* There are now seven nominated dramas and seven nominated comedies, up from six. This expansion was one in part to acknowledge the obvious -- there is a vast amount of product out there.

* Possible ramification: From a viewer standpoint, this could be good. "Oh look! My fave show finally made the cut." But the Emmy telecast is already long enough, and adding anything to the production could make it longer. Of course, this could mean that longtime director, Don Mischer, will have to cut other parts of the show.

Fat, in other words, could be eliminated.

Or those musical hooks could cue up a lot quicker, too.

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