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A glass half full: Bruce Paisner on Emmys & Indian television

16-February-2011
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A glass half full: Bruce Paisner on Emmys & Indian television

It was on a rain-spattered weekday that Bruce L Paisner, President & CEO, International Academy of Arts and Sciences, shared his views on the Indian television industry and the Emmys. As is known, he is the mind and the machine behind the much celebrated Emmy Awards that are held on the Monday night before Thanksgiving in New York. It is the currency for television programmes all over the world. The Oscars for television, if we may say so!

In a conversation with exchange4media, Paisner explained at the very outset that his visit to India was part of his agenda since he felt that some countries were under-represented at the Emmys in terms of entries, membership and the jury, but had a fascinating television business. “The secret of television in India is a lot bigger than we understand,” he said. Another reason to be in India was also to possibly set the ball rolling for an Academy day for the International Academy of Arts and Sciences (IATAS). This Academy day brings together the politics and the media and IATAS is on the lookout for newer places to leave its footprint.

How it all started...

The Emmys started in 1949 as a way to recognise excellence in television, a few years after the Oscars. The television fraternity wanted an awards function for themselves that would do justice to the immense creativity and work that went into television. Sometime in the late 60’s the International Emmys came into existence when a group of American distributors decided to award programmes produced and aired outside the US. For the next 20-30 years, informed Paisner, the Academy went on doing just what it did, in fact, he added, it was not an academy then, it was called the International Council of the National Academy. When Paisner started his tenure, he felt that the Council would have much more prestige and standing as an academy and got the US academies to agree to this, thus the IATAS was formed.

“The awards have also been expanding,” said Paisner, adding, “The November awards have been happening for the last 30-40 years in fairly what you would consider the obvious categories – drama, comedy, documentary and the performing arts.”

During his tenure, three newer categories were added – Best ‘Tele-Novella’, which is a feature that is not present in American television rather in other countries; and the categories of Best Actor and Actress (created a few years ago) from all over the world. The tele-novella, explained Paisner, was a great concept for Indian television. These categories clearly opened up the Emmys to a wonderful world of international televisions programmes and acting prowess. Besides this, they have added two whole new categories – the News Emmys, which are held in September, and the Digital Emmys. The World TV festival, which is held before the award ceremony, screens all the nominated programmes – the scope for all entries is thus huge.

“We have been finding that people in television from different parts of the world are more and more interested to know what is going on in other parts of the world,” said Paisner. “The business of television is so confusing, there are so many things you can do, so many investments one can make, directions you can go...” he mused. The membership of IATAS is now over 600, he informed. Five years ago it was 200. With these trips that he is making and by getting the word out, people can not only become members and get access to a password protected part of the website, but more importantly, they can attend the events, meet other people and the world becomes smaller.

India talking...

On the India chapter, Paisner said, that India was not informed enough about the Emmys. He hoped that his trip would not only help culminate the possible Academy Day, but also encourage entries from India and more membership and jury participation. Five years from now would be a whole different story, predicted Paisner. The bigger world out there lies at the Emmys gate – India just has to take it. It would be presumptuous to predict a change in the industry if the participation went up in the Emmys, he said, but if people met and talked about newer things, the business would grow when people tried newer formats. There are over a billion people in India, but possibly only three million who have TV sets. The glass is half full for Paisner. The opportunities are huge in India, and the scope is stunning.

The entries for the Emmys for 2011 close on February 20 and the rigorous judging process will take the whole period of March to October when the nominees are announced, before the coveted awards take place in November.

The Emmys is hoping for over 1,000 entries this year. Is the Indian television fraternity listening?

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