TV academy aims to update its image

By Meg James / Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Sixty-eight years ago a cartoon director, a radio station owner, a military film editor and a schoolteacher came together with the goal of turning an emerging technology into a respected profession.

Their pet project — the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences — recently unveiled a similarly ambitious campaign to rebuild its North Hollywood headquarters complex, update its image and encourage a more diverse workforce in the television industry.

“We need to be more contemporary,” Bruce Rosenblum, the former Warner Bros. television executive who is chairman and chief executive of the academy, said in an interview at the group’s Lankershim Boulevard headquarters. “We are sitting in a world that is rapidly evolving, and we need to have a louder and more meaningful voice in where the industry is heading.”

As part of its overhaul, the nonprofit group plans to shorten its name to Television Academy and launch a more than $40 million fundraising campaign.

Half of that money — to be donated by TV networks, producers and other academy members — will be earmarked for demolishing its current 19,700-square-foot auditorium and constructing a handsome new 36,700-square-foot facility that will include a 600-seat theater and adjoining media center. The new building will feature editing bays and office space for the Television Academy Foundation staff.

Rosenblum plans to steer the other $20 million to boost its foundation endowment, which provides scholarships, internships with production studios and TV networks, and seminars for college faculty. He and other leaders would like to double the size of its internship program to find jobs for about 100 people annually.

The first order of business, however, was to tweak the definition of television. Instead of referring to the electronic console as “television,” the group now embraces a more inclusive moniker — television means programming — in a nod toward the rise of disruptive new digital programmers, including Netflix.

It’s a subtle pivot but a step forward for an organization that, decades ago, was filled with network TV snobs who resisted opening the Emmy Awards to programs that ran on cable networks.

“Isn’t flashing pictures on a screen in a box the definition of television?” asked Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, who serves on the academy’s executive committee. “For television to remain relevant, it’s important for these organizing bodies to keep up with the times.”

Though there were only 50,000 television sets in America when the academy was founded in 1946, Americans now own more than 312 million TV sets, according to Nielsen data. Consumers also access programming through computers, tablets and smartphones.

But the TV industry organizations have been challenged to preserve their cultural niche as YouTube and social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have grown into TV-fan accessible forums for discussions on TV shows and an ad hoc archive of historic video clips.

The Television Academy competes for funds with other cultural organizations, including its more New York-centric rival, the Paley Center for Media, which has struggled financially. That group, which owns a fashionable building in Beverly Hills, maintains an archive of old television and radio programs and serves as a resource for authors, historians, and TV and film producers to ensure the historical accuracy of their works.

The nonprofit Paley Center offers more public events than the Television Academy through its video archives, newsmaker forums and Paleyfest, its popular annual festival to celebrate television shows.

In contrast, the Television Academy focuses more on its membership, which includes 18,200 professionals from the industry’s different disciplines, including casting, sound editing, and hair and makeup.

Last week the group inducted media mogul Rupert Murdoch, comedian Jay Leno, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, writer-producer David E. Kelley and longtime ABC executive Brandon Stoddard into its Hall of Fame. They join a roster that includes such greats as Walt Disney, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey. Engineer Ray Dolby also was honored posthumously.

The academy’s main event has been producing the annual prime-time Emmy Awards telecast, which is scheduled for Aug. 25 this year and will be broadcast by NBC.

Unlike the Oscar show, which ABC has televised since 1976, the Emmy broadcast is hosted each year by a different network — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — to avoid an appearance of favoritism.

Award programs, which include the Hall of Fame Awards and the Los Angeles area Emmys (the daytime Emmys are sponsored by an East Coast organization), form the academy’s financial bedrock, bringing in more than $23.5 million in revenue in 2012, the most recent year for which the group’s tax filings are available. Overall revenue that year for the group, which has a staff of 55 people, was $25.4 million, and expenses totaled $22 million.