Since the Emmy® Awards came into existence in 1949, they had never been postponed or canceled until 2001. In that year it happened twice.
I was elected Chairman/CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in August 2001, almost a month to the day before 9/11. The Emmy® broadcast was scheduled for September 16th of that year. This meant that the first big decision on my watch was whether it was possible — five days after the worst act of terrorism in history — to imagine a walk down the red carpet with Hollywood celebs.
Clearly, it wasn't.
As everyone re-plays the "Where were you?" moment that the horrific events became for all of us, my own memories combine the moral outrage at such a hideous act of mass murder with the POV of show business struggling to cope with this new reality of terrorism. It was a terrible time for the nation, one that I still think about often, and the most challenging professional moment in my career.
Must the Show Go On?
When my running partner and I saw my wife, Jackie, driving up to find me on the morning of September 11th, I knew that something bad had to have happened. My first thought was that one of my children had been hurt. Instead, she told us to get in the car, that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York. America was at war… with somebody.
At home my family huddled in front of the TV while we all watched, like everyone else in the nation. I remember feeling that life had just gotten so much more dangerous and complicated.
At the same time, I was also on the phone with the team from the TV Academy and our network sponsors at CBS. During the phone tag interaction, it was clear that this event was going to impact the Emmys® strongly. Even the idea that they might not happen at all was on the table immediately. I asked if there had ever been a year when they had not taken place. The answer was no.
That Tuesday afternoon, after more phone calls and meetings, there was unanimous support to cancel the upcoming show on Sunday. This would have an incredible financial impact on both CBS and the Academy, but no one at this point even cared.
We confirmed that decision to the media with the caveat that there was yet no clarity as to when the ceremony would be re-scheduled. After all, the death toll was mounting in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Nothing seemed to matter but that. Certainly not a TV show where celebrities dressed up and gave each other awards.
Things were complicated at the Academy by the fact that, although I had just been elected a month earlier, I was not scheduled to officially take office until October 1. So my predecessor Meryl Marshall-Daniels, the Academy executive director Jim Chabin and I went to CBS as a team the next day to talk it out with Les Moonves and his people. Two dates were on the table — the only times that the Shrine Auditorium could be rented again — September 24 and October 7.
The network side tended to favor September 24 because the Emmys® have always been like a starting gun for the fall season. The Academy side tended to favor October 7 because the passions of the moment made it seem inconceivable that anyone would be ready for a red carpet in less than two weeks. In the end, after both sides canvassed the likely attendees, we realized that September 24 would have too many no-shows. October 7 became the date by default.
There had also been debate about giving up and not doing them at all. While we all felt while that would have been an easy decision, we came to believe that waiting almost a month after the attacks felt like it would work.
Fate had other ideas...
Read the full essay at Movie Smackdown!
An edited version of this essay first appeared at The Wrap.
Photos provided courtesy of Mathew Imaging (Craig Mathew).