Will the Emmys Be Delayed? How the Potential SAG-AFTRA Strike Could Threaten TV Awards Season

The Emmys have been here before. In 1980, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (back then, they were two separate unions negotiating a joint contract with the studios but are now the combined SAG-AFTRA) went on strike for three months. That year’s Emmy telecast happened to fall right in the middle of it.

Actors boycotted the ceremony, but for some reason, the TV Academy went ahead with the Emmy telecast anyway. Famously, only one out of 52 nominees attended: Powers Boothe, who said when accepting his trophy for playing cult leader Jim Jones: “This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest.”

Steve Allen and Dick Clark (both of whom donated their hosting fees to the SAG emergency fund) hosted that year’s ceremony after original hosts Michael Landon, Bob Newhart and Lee Remick bowed out due to the strike. Variety called that year’s show a “lackluster affair,” and noted that the TV Academy aimed to fill the lack of big names with behind-the-scenes coverage of various crafts. With no stars to hand out the awards, execs like NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff and producers like David L. Wolper announced the winners.

The boycott worked. Although the ratings were still astounding by today’s numbers (a 15.0 household rating and 29 share), a rerun of the film “The Longest Yard” starring Burt Reynolds scored bigger ratings opposite it on a rival network.

Fast forward to 2023, and as of press time, we don’t know if or when SAG-AFTRA will go on strike should its deal with the AMPTP expire on June 30 without a new contract. But with the Writers Guild already on strike, and a SAG-AFTRA strike a distinct possibility, the TV Academy is already starting to mull several different contingency plans on how to adjust the rest of the campaign season calendar — and what to do with the telecast, currently scheduled for Sept. 18 on Fox.

By the time nominations are announced on July 12, it might be clearer just how much of the town is on strike, and whether there is any resolution in sight. If both stars and writers are on strike, Phase 2 Emmy campaigning becomes pretty much impossible. Without writers, even the Phase 1 FYC cycle became strained.

That could force the Academy to move the Phase 2 voting window, currently scheduled for Aug. 17-28, to later. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Phase 2 voting dates shifted, with Phase 1 voting moved to July; this time, it’s unclear how or when campaigning could resume — or if it will have to take place without talent participation.

The Creative Arts Emmy Awards are currently scheduled for Sept. 9 and 10, followed by the Emmy telecast the next week. As of early June, Fox and the TV Academy had already hired Jesse Collins this year’s Emmys — ending its relationship with producers Done+Dusted and Hudlin Entertainment after several years. But there’s no host(s) in place just yet — and a SAG-AFTRA strike on top of the WGA strike would seem to keep such a hiring on pause (unless an unscripted personality, like Gordon Ramsay, is selected).

These dates could very well be pushed to later in the year should the rest of the Emmy calendar move. Among the possibilities: November — and there’s precedence for that. In 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks pushed the Emmy date, initial military action in Afghanistan pushed the telecast again, into November. At that point, a subdued Emmy telecast took place in a smaller venue (the now-demolished Schubert Theatre in Century City).

A November postponement might also make sense for the broadcast networks, given that this already won’t be a normal fall TV season.

The Emmys traditionally kick off a wave of season premieres in mid-September, but beyond new episodes that have already been written and produced, networks are mostly relying on strike contingency fare in the fall (including loads of unscripted programs). How the fall shakes out is anyone’s guess, and how that impacts the 75th annual Primetime Emmys will continue to be a big question mark. This year, Emmy FYC is also Emmy TBD.

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