The same properties that make DVD an attractive format for distribution of TV shows to viewers also make it a superior medium for objective comparisons between shows. You get menu-driven access directly to a given program, reliability, and consistently good picture quality. You can also listen to a show in the channel configuration for which it was originally mixed, even if that was true 5.1 surround sound.
With that in mind, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences began using DVD for the first time this year to distribute programs to judges in sound-specific categories for the Emmy Awards. With just three weeks to create discs covering 40 nominated shows across eight categories, the project posed a formidable challenge to the production team. But the result was a happier group of judges, as well as a chance for the creators of 5.1 programming to have their work judged based on its intended playback configuration.
A Jury of Peers
Now in their 55th year, the Emmy Awards are an opportunity for television professionals to recognize the work of their colleagues. The categories are quite specialized, reflecting the niche nature of much of the work. Three awards are given in sound editing, covering series, miniseries, movie, and special and nonfiction programming (single or multi-camera). In mixing, there are five different categories: single-camera series, single-camera miniseries or movie, multi-camera series or special, variety or music series or special, and nonfiction programming (single or multi-camera).
The nominating and judging process for the awards is organized around the Academy's peer groups. "Each area of expertise in the TV Academy—sound, sound editors, actors, directors, and so on—has a peer group," explains Jerry Clemans, a re-recording mixer at Echo Sound Services in Burbank, California who serves as a governor for the Academy's sound peer group, which includes about 300 of the industry's sound professionals.
Clemans says that everybody who is a member of the Academy—or even non-members, if they pay a fee—can submit a show to be nominated. "Once the submissions are in, a ballot goes out to the entire peer group, and they vote on which five shows they think should be nominated. From that comes the shows that are evaluated by a panel of judges from the peer group. When we sort out everybody that may have some kind of conflict of interest—working for the same studio or one of their friends is nominated—we usually end up with 20-25 people per category."
Pulling together a large enough judging pool to make the awards meaningful has been an ongoing challenge for the Academy. That's part of the reason for the switch to DVD, which continues an overall trend toward at-home judging. "A long time ago," Clemans says, "they would rent hotel rooms and set up sound systems, and all the various peer groups would go to different hotels and judge the nominated shows. But it just became too cost-prohibitive. So then we started going to a local studio that donated its sound stage, and everybody would listen there."