Emmy im­pos­tor, tro­phy in­jury: awards chief has seen it all

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK - By Lynn Elber

LOS AN­GE­LES » In 38 years of man­ag­ing the Emmy Awards — more than half its 70-year his­tory — John Lev­er­ence has faced ev­ery­thing from the de­mands of a chang­ing TV in­dus­try to ticket night­mares to a stat­uette guilty of caus­ing bod­ily harm.

As the TV academy’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for awards, he’s seen the Emmy cat­e­gories dou­ble from about 60 to 122, en­tries bal­loon from 1,500 to 9,000, and the cer­e­mony out­grow 3,000- and 5,000-seat theaters and pack its cur­rent venue, the 7,100seat Mi­crosoft Theater.

De­spite his long ten­ure, Lev­er­ence still frets over in­dus­try mem­bers un­able to get a seat for TV’s an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of its best. Hulu’s “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and FX’s “At­lanta” are among the con­tenders for Mon­day’s awards (at 8 p.m. EDT, NBC) and il­lus­trate why this has been dubbed TV’s sec­ond golden age.

But Lev­er­ence has long ob­served the im­pact of the honors, with newly crowned win­ners ar­riv­ing back­stage clutch­ing their tro­phy and ap­pear­ing dazed and lost.

“I think it’s be­cause when you’re hold­ing that Emmy, you re­al­ize that all of a sud­den some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary has hap­pened to you and it’s sym­bol­ized by a beau­ti­ful tro­phy,” Lev­er­ence said.

He’s re­ceived his own: the Syd Cassyd Founder’s Award, named for the academy’s founder and rec­og­niz­ing ser­vice to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. It’s a high­light of his academy ca­reer, said Lev­er­ence, a for­mer pro­fes­sor at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity Long Beach.

It was Lev­er­ence who helped bring ca­ble (fol­lowed by dig­i­tal) into the Emmy fold once solely for over-the-air broad­cast­ing. In 1988, an adroit so­lu­tion ap­plied TV mar­kets and rat­ings to new plat­forms to make their pro­grams el­i­gi­ble for awards con­sid­er­a­tion.

“If we hadn’t fig­ured that out, then there’d be no HBO, no Showtime, no Net­flix” com­pet­ing, he said. “We’d be giv­ing these awards out Sun­day af­ter­noon in the base­ment of the Elks Club in Mus­ca­tine, Iowa.”

(“I bet ev­ery­body in Mus­ca­tine is go­ing to call me,” added Lev­er­ence, who has fam­ily con­nec­tions there.)

The ge­nial, pro­fes­so­rial Lev­er­ence ad­mits to wit­ness­ing some lesser mo­ments, one in­volv­ing the ele­gant gold Emmy stat­uette of a fig­ure with wings — re­ally sharp-edged wings — tri­umphantly ex­tended sky­ward.

“One guy was so ex­cited, he was ges­tur­ing to his friend and ran the wings into his leg,” Lev­er­ence re­called of the back­stage mo­ment. The wounded win­ner re­turned to his seat, no­tice­ably blood­ied but in­tent on stay­ing.

There was an­other en­counter that took place when re­cip­i­ents were given prop tro­phies un­til one could be en­graved and sent to them. (Cur­rent re­cip­i­ents keep the tro­phy and get an en­graved plate added.)

A win­ner re­fused to sur­ren­der his, push­ing back with a heart­felt per­for­mance wor­thy of its own spe­cial-cat­e­gory award.

“‘No, no! My mother is in the hospi­tal. I know she’s go­ing to die tonight and I have to get to the hospi­tal with my Emmy to show her be­fore she dies,’” Lev­er­ence said, re­count­ing his dra­matic speech.

“Of course he was ly­ing,” he said, drolly. “But what can you do with that kind of story?”

One red-faced mo­ment for Lev­er­ence came in 1985, when he un­wit­tingly OK’d a ticket for a man who turned out to be an awards gate­crasher. He popped up on­stage to ac­cept the Emmy for Betty Thomas of “Hill Street Blues” — and thanked sports­caster Dick Schaap— be­fore the ac­tress could claim it.

“The only good thing about the whole evening was that as I went to apol­o­gize to my boss, the cops were trundling this guy through the lobby,” he said.

Then there are the re­cur­rent dreams in which Lev­er­ence is prowl­ing the theater for empty seats to sat­isfy the ever-grow­ing ticket de­mand (free to nom­i­nees, $700 to $800 for oth­ers in the in­dus­try).

“Why don’t you sleep on the couch for a few nights,” his wife has scolded him. “I can’t stand you walk­ing up and down those aisles all night.”

PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO — IN­VI­SION — AP

Dr. John Lev­er­ence, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of awards at the Academy of Tele­vi­sion Arts & Sciences, poses for a por­trait at the Tele­vi­sion Academy, Thurs­day in Los An­ge­les. Lev­er­ence has over­seen the Em­mys Awards for the past 38 years.

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