NATAS Completes Internal Investigation, “Procedural Changes Being Implemented,” Pres. Adam Sharp Confirmed

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A thorough investigation into the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ handling of the Daytime Emmy Awards has found a competition that included unintentional irregularities and the potential for favoritism in the nominations and final judging process.  But that was an investigation that NATAS agreed to immediately and without any stipulations or requirements, NATAS president Adam Sharp confirmed to Highlight Hollywood. “We wanted to be transparent in this process and we agreed immediately to an investigation and the report is being released publicly on Thursday, so no one has any concerns about any issues going forward.”

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NATAS president has a rich background. Adam Sharp was hired by Twitter, their goal was to one day have the President of the United States speaking directly to the people through Twitter. Sharp became a regular on the DC press beat during the Obama administration and is now serving as the interim President of NATAS, following the recent Academy elections in June that also gave NATAS a new Chairman, Terry O’Reilly. This brings Sharp full circle as he began his career as a NATAS Scholarship recipient.  “I feel very honored that I was amongst the early scholarship recipients and the thing that makes NATAS a special place is because everyone here has a long history with the organization and it is special to all of us.

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The Daytime Emmy Awards is growing by leaps and bounds. So, “growing pains is something we’d rather be having, instead the alternative.  However, we are very disappointed in what happened in the last awards season and are working hard to ensure that not only does it never happen again, but also that there are processes in place for those concerned to contact us and we will immediately begin a process,” Sharp continued. 

After a situation that ended in Ms. Patrika Darbo having to return her Emmy Award for work she did on “The Bay,” the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences commissioned a probe by the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth to review its procedures and practices after challenges were made to two of this year’s Daytime Emmy winners on eligibility grounds.

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The 20-page report paints a picture of an overworked NATAS staff that became “sloppy” in the application of its own rules for the Daytime Emmy competition. The explosion in programming as spurred a nearly 30% rise during the past few years in the number of submissions for the annual daytime TV competition. NATAS staff has struggled to keep up with the volume at a time when the academy is producing more award shows and events than ever

For any competition to be perceived as legitimate, its rules must be clearly announced and strictly and consistently enforced. The 2018 Daytime Emmys competition did not meet such a standard,” the report states. “While we found no evidence that NATAS staff intentionally rigged the competition results, NATAS staff did not afford equitable treatment to all submissions. Similarly, once rule violations were discovered, NATAS staff did not act objectively to correct competition errors in a consistent manner. This situation was compounded by a lack of complete written rules and procedures for rectifying an already difficult and complex situation.”

In the wake of the scandal, NATAS is vowing to bring more transparency and consistency to the administration of the awards. The organization said it would clearly separate the jobs of overseeing the competition process and that of producing the annual ceremony. 45th Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Gala - Press Room

“We recognize how important it is that we are crystal clear on our policies, procedures and rules around the Daytime Emmys,” Adam Sharp, interim president and CEO of NATAS, said. “Any gap or failing there can impact entrants’ confidence entire system and that can damage the stature of the award.”  Adding, “We have also added staff to make sure this doesn’t happen again. 

However, because it was unintentional, Sharp confirmed that no staffers had been fired or reprimanded as a result of the report. But some of those who work on Daytime Emmys will change their areas of focus as a result of the report’s recommendations, he said.

Concerns were also raised about NATAS’ protocol for assembling judging panels for the nominations and final winners. The report found that NATAS staff occasionally directly recruited people to serve as judges when they didn’t have enough members volunteering for the panels.

Several interviewees expressed concern about NATAS staff’s assembly of panels based on their personal contacts, even if such contacts are vetted by staff and found to be qualified,” the report states. “To prevent such confusion, NATAS should establish and distribute objective written criteria for eligibility to serve as a panel judge.”

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The report details the problems that arose because NATAS did not have written policies for the eligibility requirements for certain Daytime Emmy categories.

The issue with NATAS centered around the awards in two categories: supporting actor in a digital daytime series and guest performer in a digital daytime series.

NATAS rules state that video reel submissions in the digital supporting actor category must be taken from a single episode of the series. In the digital guest performer category, actors may not have appeared in a prior season of the show.

The 2018 winners in those categories — Eric Nelsen of “The Bay” and Patrika Darbo of “The Bay” — were found to have violated those rules. Challenges to the eligibility of Nelsen and Darbo’s nominations were made a few days before the April 29 award ceremony by producer Michael Caruso. The report found fault with NATAS’ handling of Caruso’s inquiry and the inconsistent application of the rules.

NATAS staffers decided to stand by Nelsen’s win because of confusion about the submission requirements and the fact that the rules regarding the number of episodes were changed for the 2018 competition. The 69th Technology & Engineering Emmy Award Ceremony, Las Vegas, 4/8/2018

NATAS staffers quickly rescinded Darbo’s win because she had appeared in prior seasons of “The Bay.” Compounding the unfortunate issue was the decision made by NATAS staffers to alert actor Jennifer Bassey that she was to be named the new winner in the digital guest actor category for her work in “Anacostia,” as she received the second highest number of votes following Darbo. But that was also tabled when it was discovered that Bassey’s submission also violated the rules by containing material from two episodes of the series. NATAS ultimately chose not to issue any award in the category for 2018.

“We did not find any indication NATAS or NATAS staff intentionally attempted to influence or alter the initial outcome of the award competition,” the report states. “However, we observed many instances in which circumstances and NATAS staff decisions gave rise to, at minimum, the appearance of impropriety and favoritism, which have caused observers to believe the awards competition and the resolution of the awarding of Emmy Awards in Categories 39 and 40 was not conducted in an impartial manner. As one interviewee aptly described the circumstances described herein, this was ‘sloppy.’”

Sharp explained that the judging requirements and submissions will be fixed, and he and NATAS are looking forward to the 2019 competition with safeguards and clear guidance in place.

David Michaels has worked diligently to grow the Daytime Emmys and has been credited throughout the industry as a genius.  The Daytime Emmy Awards online viewing platforms are absolutely groundbreaking.  With the Academy Awards and even Primetime Emmys crumbling viewership, NATAS has continued over the past few years seen a doubling of viewership and that is no small feat.
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“We are grateful for David [Michaels] and his team, and as I stated earlier, it’s far better to have growing pains than to be shrinking in this field.  But, we are determined to fix the problem, we faced it head on and didn’t hide behind excuses,” Adam Sharp reminded. “But our viewership and participation growth needs to also be tempered with growth in every areas.  We realize that it was time to update every aspect of this and that includes ensuring that in the future people not only feel comfortable making suggestions or asking questions, but that there will be staff available to handle it on a timely basis.  We accept the findings and want to move forward.  This was a tricky needle to thread, but we hope that we accomplished it and will make everyone throughout the upcoming 2019 Daytime Emmy process feel confident about their areas in it, as we are concerned and now aware of our own shortcomings in the past.”

The report details a long list of recommendations to strengthen NATAS’ procedures, including greater transparency at all levels and the addition of another full time staffer and two part-time staffers to vet the higher volume of submissions. Sharp said the recommendations would be applied across all of NATAS’ awards competitions, notably the News and Documentary Emmy Awards and the Sports Emmy Awards.

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Sharp said he expects the Daytime Emmys ceremony to remain a live webcast next year. In his view, a webcast is fitting at a time when programs from digital players such as Netflix and Amazon have been a big factor in the higher volume of Daytime Emmy submissions.

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Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  NATAS; Gilles Toucas/Bell Phillip TV Productions
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