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AFTER SHOWING SENSITIVITY, EMMYS DESERVE TO GO ON WITH SHOW

After the Emmy awards were postponed for the second time on Oct. 7 when America began its bombing campaign in Afghanistan, there was a cry from prominent members of my critical fraternity to shelve the program entirely and hand out the awards privately.

Thankfully, CBS and the organizers have ignored that advice and the show is going on at 8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 4 with Ellen DeGeneres as host and Walter Cronkite delivering a message via satellite from Toronto.

The suggestion that this program should be made a casualty of war is a little baffling to me.

I have to agree with the statement made by Bryce Zabel, chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on Tuesday in a conference call with the nation's television critics.

"President Bush is throwing out the ball at the World Series (Tuesday) tonight," he said. "We feel it is certainly appropriate for the Emmys to continue."

Canceling the Emmys would have been punishing the people running the awards show for showing more sensitivity and compassion than almost any group in the entertainment business.

The Emmys were the first major event postponed after the events of Sept. 11, with the decision being made to postpone the original Sept. 16 ceremony days before the National Football League belatedly decided to take a Sunday off.

While the Emmys decided to postpone on Oct. 7, the NFL played that Sunday and its games bumped off news coverage about the bombing on CBS and Fox because of "contractual obligations."

While CBS filled its night with news and reruns of popular sitcoms, the other networks stuck with their original programming.

The Emmy organizers clearly were taking the moral high ground, deciding it would be wrong to celebrate while America was bombing another country.

After the two postponements, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker suggested that the awards be announced at a gathering or in a press release and the show be dropped. It is hard to believe that Zucker's opinion was taken seriously. After all, he's the guy who decided to put "Emeril" on the air.

"NYPD Blue" star Dennis Franz had similar sentiments, though he apparently has changed his mind and is going to be a presenter Sunday. Several critics joined the chorus and wondered why the show had to go on for what is really an insignificant event.

Do we really have to answer why? Because this is America, where we try to go on as much as possible and we certainly don't give in to terrorists' attack on our buildings or our psyche.

It is also a country whose economy has been hit hard by Sept. 11. The attack has had an impact on jobs, on schools, on not-for-profit groups. Among those taking financial hits are the networks, which carried hours of news programs without commercials after Sept. 11 and already were rocked by what is widely viewed as a recession before that.

It is the networks' duty now to try and find ways to financially recover without looking callous about it. As a practical manner, the cancellation of the Emmys would cost CBS millions in advertising revenue and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences millions in rights fees as well.

Why should they forego those millions for being so sensitive to world events twice before when sports leagues have made practically everyone do cartwheels to allow their games to go on so they wouldn't lose any revenue?

Game Four of the World Series is being played tonight, Oct. 31, in New York's Yankee Stadium because the league decided to move the Series back rather than cancel some regular season games or an early round of the playoffs.

The National Football League, which waited until the last minute to do the right thing and postpone Sept. 16 games, spent weeks trying to find a way to keep its 16-game regular season and playoff structure intact so it wouldn't be out a nickel.

To get its way, the NFL moved the Super Bowl back a week into February, "persuading" another convention planned for New Orleans on that weekend to move its function.

While the Emmys aren't exactly in the same league as the World Series or the Super Bowl, they are a significant event to people in the television industry. CBS isn't asking any convention group to change its plans, it isn't moving the ceremonies to a cold-weather climate, it isn't forcing anyone to attend.

So what's the problem?

The network isn't forcing anyone to watch, either. And the competition is certainly going to be much tougher than it would have been on Sept. 16 before the new television season began. If the New York Yankees make a series comeback and the World Series goes to seven games, the deciding game would be played opposite the Emmys. NBC is premiering the first part of a miniseries, "Uprising," on Sunday and HBO is carrying the poignant finale of its miniseries, "Band of Brothers."

In Tuesday's conference call, producer Gary Smith said the competition for awards will be downplayed but the tone of the November show will be closer to what was planned before Sept. 11 than it was for an October program that was going to be very reserved.

"I think the country wants that," said Smith. "I think Ellen DeGeneres is working hard to come up with funny material."

He added that a feature is planned to show how entertainers and stars historically have come to the forefront to entertain the nation in times of war.

Smith said most of the presenters who were involved in the previously postponed shows will be there Sunday, though some stars and writers won't be able to make it because their production schedules can't be changed on such short notice.

Among the list of Emmy presenters that CBS has announced are Martin Sheen of "The West Wing," Wayne Brady of "Whose Line Is It Anyway," Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier," William Petersen of "CSI," Calista Flockhart of "Ally McBeal" and Rachel Griffiths of "Six Feet Under."

And Smith is willing to make one Emmy prediction.

"We'll going to find the winners putting the receiving of these awards in the proper context to the way we all feel today," said Smith. "I think it will be incredibly emotional."

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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