- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) | When the Emmy Awards air Sunday, more is at stake than whether “30 Rock” wins its fourth consecutive best-series trophy, “Mad Men” its third or “Glee” its first.

A crucial tally will be the ratings ammunition for either the big four networks or the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as the two sides negotiate a new contract for the telecast.

The current agreement, reached in 2002 and expiring this year, created an annual network rotation that brought the ceremony to ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and gave the TV academy a huge boost in its license fees.

Now the Emmy show has a chance to prove that it’s riding a wave that has lifted other awards broadcasts this year, with viewership up for shows including the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Grammys.

But what Emmy organizers also might covet is a counteroffer. Eight years ago, cable’s HBO made a splash by bidding to wrest away the ceremony with a $10 million annual license fee when the networks were offering $3.3 million.

“Nothing can help your negotiation more than if you have another offer on the table,” said writer-producer Bryce Zabel, who was academy chairman and CEO at the time. “We had a strong argument that the license fee should go up, but it made it easier to achieve with another offer.”

Networks ultimately agreed to an eight-year deal with license fees of $4.5 million annually for the first four years and $7.5 million per year for the next four.

The academy and the networks declined comment on current negotiations.

But broadcast executives were surprised at the academy’s proposal, given ceremony ratings in recent years, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. The individuals, who lacked authority to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the academy was seeking to keep fees in the $7.5 million range.

So far, there has been no overt interest shown in the Emmys by HBO or major basic cable networks, such as Turner Broadcasting’s TNT or TBS.

Jimmy Fallon, host of the 62nd Annual Primetime Emmys on NBC, put in a measured vote for broadcast over cable.

“There’s probably a good case on either side … but everyone who has television can see the networks. To me, that’s always better,” he said.

Also shadowing the Emmy talks is a New York-based competitor that’s in the planning stages. The proposed Paley Center for Media honors is aiming for a 2012 launch, possibly in spring when the networks present the following season’s programs to Manhattan ad buyers.

An exploratory committee with high-profile studio, network and other industry executives is weighing options for categories and the selection process. One proposal: giving the public a voting role with an eye toward popularizing the winners.

Such an approach would appeal to the networks, which have seen their top-rated programs such as CBS’ “NCIS” and “The Mentalist” snubbed on Emmy night, while lower-rated but acclaimed cable shows including AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” collect trophies and free promotion.

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