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Uncertain times shake up plans for the Emmys


The one thing that can be said with any certainty about tonight's telecast of the 53rd Annual Emmy Awards Show is that no one seems to know what it's going to look like as it plays out live before us and viewers in 99 other countries.

The producers of the show, traditionally one of the most predictable and overly produced of all the awards shows, say they are making it up as they go along in an attempt to craft a program that seems appropriate for the uncharted cultural climate of American life since Sept. 11.

"Normally, shows like this we have pretty much locked up -- the routine, the running order, the music, all of it -- like, 10 days ahead of time. But we'll be making those kinds of decisions here literally while we're on the air, in fact. It's a completely different challenge this time because of what's happened," Don Mischer, the executive producer of the telecast, said in a telephone conference call this past week.

"It's going to be minute by minute," added Bryce Zabel, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and one of the key players in deciding to cancel the telecast and all events surrounding the awards on the weekend of Sept. 16 in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Simply put, the telecast, which heralds the start of the new fall television season, is as much a mess as the networks' new lineups.

For the first time since 1974, for example, the telecast will be bicoastal, with the program moving back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. One of the major reasons for the New York segment is that many nominees living on the East Coast -- especially those from The Sopranos, which leads all shows with 22 nominations -- did not want to leave their families and travel across the country, according to Mischer and Zabel.

How bicoastal will the telecast be?

Well, again, that's a detail they haven't exactly figured out.

"There will be more than 100 nominees in New York, we think, but we're still in the process of getting information as to who will be there. Everything is so fluid. It's all just so fluid, and everything's switching around. So, I just can't tell exactly who's going to be there," Mischer said.

"Ellen DeGeneres will still be the primary host in Los Angeles in terms of moving us gracefully from one segment to the next, but we'll go periodically to New York when there's an award, and we'll make some presentations from New York, too. So, I don't know, I'm guessing maybe 20 to 25 percent of the telecast comes from New York -- but it could change," he added.

Mischer and Zabel promise the telecast will be different. No red carpet area out front with fans straining for a glimpse of the stars as they arrive. No formal attire or fabulous gowns -- the invitations say "business dressy." No big musical opening or fanfare.

Former CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite will open the broadcast in an effort to set a tone that's properly respectful of the tragic events of Sept. 11, according to Mischer.

"This is the first time the entire television industry has gotten together since ... and we felt like we needed to set the proper tone before the show begins," Mischer said.

"And it seemed to us that Cronkite is someone who has lived through many times like this. And Walter is someone who can talk about the history of our nation. He can talk about how we've survived things like this before. He's intimately involved with how television has made all of us witnesses to history," he added.

"Television is information, yes, but it's also a place where people can turn for a sense of community in times of crisis. And that's what we're trying to do," Zabel said.

Emmy Awards

When: Tonight at 8

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

In brief: More live than the producers would like it to be.

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