Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Inc. History

5220 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, California 91601

Telephone: (818) 754-2800

Not-For-Profit Company
Founded: 1948
NAIC: 813920 Professional Organizations

Company Perspectives:

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences--founded one month after network television was born in 1946--is a nonprofit corporation devoted to the advancement of telecommunications arts and sciences and to fostering creative leadership in the telecommunications industry.

Key Dates:

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is founded.
Academy is incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
The first Emmy Awards are held.
The Academy is superceded by National Academy of Television Arts and Science (NATAS).
NATAS splits into two Academies.

Company History:

Located in North Hollywood, California, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Inc. (ATAS) is a not-for-profit corporation best known for its annual Emmy Awards ceremony, honoring the best that primetime television has to offer. A rival group based in New York, The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), awards Emmys for daytime programming, sports, news, and documentaries. The Academy also hosts seminars related to broadcasting and emerging technologies, sponsors student internships, is responsible for a hall of fame, maintains a television archive with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a library at the University of Southern California (USC), and publishes a newsletter as well as Emmy, a bi-monthly general interest magazine dedicated to the television industry. Membership in the Academy is based on peer groups--such as performers, writers, and directors--which are responsible for determining eligibility requirements. Each peer group has two representatives on the Board of Governors and is responsible for overseeing the operation of the Academy. Members of individual peer groups also determine the winner of Emmys within their area of expertise.

Academy Founded During Television's Infancy

The man most responsible for the foundation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was Syd Cassyd, a Teaneck, New Jersey, native. While serving with the Army Signal Corps during World War II, he worked as a film editor with renowned Hollywood film director Frank Capra. He then moved to Los Angeles after the war, finding work as a grip on the Paramount Pictures lot as well as reporting for Film World and television trade publications TV World and Boxoffice. At the time, television was still very much in its embryonic stages: CBS had made the first commercial broadcasts in 1939, but it was not until February 12, 1946 that the first broadcast was transmitted by way of coaxial cable from New York to Washington, D.C., thus establishing the foundation for network television. Cassyd realized that the new medium had a bright future and might benefit from having an organization similar to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also looked to the French Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Science in Washington for inspiration, envisioning a television academy where position papers could be exchanged and ideas freely debated. Cassyd first discussed his concept with UCLA professor Paul Sheets, president of the Audio-Visual Educational Association of America, as well as Klaus Landsberg, Paramount's TV Engineer. He then organized an exploratory meeting, held on November 14, 1946 in the offices of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attorney S.R. Rabinof, who also ran a television school, American Television Laboratories. Also in attendance was Sam Nathanson, a film distributor; Harmon Stevens, a Michigan radio station owner; Morrie Goldman, a cartoon director; schoolteacher Orville Engstrom; and Russell Furse, who worked for Telefilm, Inc. in public relations. Over the next few weeks the group met three more times in Rabinof's offices, agreeing that in order to achieve some measure of credibility they needed to attract a well-known personality to chair the organization and serve as a public face. Cassyd, the initial chairman, asked Edgar Bergen, the famous ventriloquist and comedian, to take over the post. Bergen, who was quite interested in pursuing a career in television, agreed. On January 7, 1947, the Academy held its first official meeting, attended by 37 television professionals and hosted by Bergen, who was quickly elected the first president and proceeded to turn the meeting into a performance, entertaining his colleagues with a puppet made from a handkerchief wrapped around his fist. Over the course of the next year, Bergen entertained ever larger audiences, as the number of professionals attending Academy meetings grew steadily. According to Cassyd, by the fifth meeting the group boasted 250 members. The Academy was officially incorporated on January 28, 1948, its stated aim "to promote the cultural, educational and research aims of television."

In order to gain some publicity for the new organization, as well as lend a degree of credibility to the new medium, the Academy decided to present awards to recognize outstanding work in television, in very much the same way the Oscars did for the film industry. It was not necessarily an obvious decision, in light of the situation with radio, an extremely popular medium at its height, which never created an awards program to honor its work. Designing an appropriate trophy and naming it proved somewhat difficult, but the Academy at least had the Oscar statuette to emulate. Cassyd suggested the award be called "Ike," an allusion to the television iconoscope tube, but "Ike" was too well identified with Dwight D. Eisenhower, the famous World War II general and future president of the United States. Harry Lubcke, president of the Society of Television Engineers, offered an alternative in "Immy," the nickname for the early image orthicon camera. Immy would later become Emmy, which Academy members felt was more appropriate for the female statuette that won an industry design competition. The winner out of 48 entrants was a television engineer for Cascade Pictures named Louis McManus, who used his wife, Dorothy, as a model for a winged woman holding aloft a massive atom. It was considered to be an appropriate symbol of the Academy, the wings representing the muse of art and the atom the technical aspirations of the new medium. The Emmy was then produced, as it has ever since, by the R.S. Owens Company in Chicago. Each statuette, made out of copper, nickel, silver, and gold, weighed four and three-quarter pounds.

First Emmys Awarded in 1949

The first Emmy award ceremony, honoring the 1948 season, was a modest affair, a 600-person banquet held at the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles on January 25, 1949. There were few celebrities in attendance and participants recalled that most parked their own cars, a far different atmosphere from the stretch limousines and staged introductions in the decades to come. Most of the people attending the first Emmys were Academy members. While radio and film heavyweights of the day chose to ignore the importance of television, local politicians were quick to embrace the Emmy awards. California Governor Earl Warren, Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron, as well as city councilmen and a county supervisor were in attendance. In many ways, the first Emmy was very much a local affair. It was broadcast on local station KTSL, the audience quite small. There were no more than 50,000 television sets in Los Angeles and only one million nationwide. There were five awards given out that night, and only programs produced in Los Angeles County and aired over the four television stations in the area were eligible. As a result, New York critics regarded the Emmys as a provincial affair not worth noting. For that matter, the Emmys received little attention from the Los Angeles media. The first Emmy ever awarded, for Most Outstanding Personality, went to Shirley Dinsdale, a 20-year-old ventriloquist who performed with her puppet, Judy Splinters, five days a week in a 15-minute broadcast on KTLA. The Most Popular Program of 1948 was "Pantomime Quiz," a charades game played by celebrities. McManus was also recognized that night for his design of the Emmy symbol. Instead of an Emmy, however, he was given a plaque.

The Emmys quickly caught on, as evidenced by the aggressive campaigning for the award that began to take place in 1949. The competition was also opened up by changing the requirements so that any television program was eligible as long as it aired on a Los Angeles television station, meaning that kinescope programming could now be considered. Because there would not be coast-to-coast transmissions via microwave until 1951, the fledgling networks had to rely on the kinescope process, which reproduced a program for later showing by filming directly off a television screen, then making prints. The Best Kinescope Show of 1949 was Milton Berle's Texaco's Star Theater, produced in New York. Another New Yorker, Ed Wynn, won the Emmy as Most Outstanding Live Personality. The second Emmy production was marred somewhat because the names of the winners leaked out earlier in the day, although most of the recipients offered an appropriate measure of surprise, if not astonishment, upon hearing their names announced. All told, the second award ceremony featured more of the fanfare expected of a faux-Academy Awards affair.

There was no assurance, however, that the Emmys and the Academy were securely established. Other TV awards cropped up during the 1950s, including ones sponsored by TV Guide, Look magazine, and the Sylvania electronics company, but it was the challenge of legendary showman and Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan that would have a more lasting effect. Sullivan personalized a growing rivalry between Los Angeles and New York over control of the new medium. Although Hollywood dominated the film industry, most television programming at this time originated in New York. In 1950, Sullivan launched his own television awards, the Michaels, which he hosted and staged in Manhattan until 1953. Ironically, neither Sullivan nor the Academy issued awards in 1954, the Academy concluding that the show was simply too expensive to produce. The situation changed in 1955 when the television networks decided the Emmys were worth showing nationwide. In order to incorporate the important contributions of New Yorkers, as well as outmaneuver Sullivan, the Academy elected to simulcast the ceremony from both Los Angeles and New York, a difficult technological feat in the days before satellite transmissions. The Emmy simulcast continued until 1971, becoming something of a tradition. Never knowing when the screen might go blank for minutes at a time actually piqued the interest of viewers and the Emmy awards broadcast enjoyed very high ratings.

Unable to beat the Academy, Sullivan now demanded that he be allowed to join it. Creating a "Committee of 50" New York television heavyweights, he petitioned the Academy for an East Coast chapter, which was granted in June 1955. Still not satisfied, he began advocating the creation of an entirely new academy, one that would designate both Los Angeles and New York as the founding chapters. Sullivan's lobbying efforts finally paid off in 1957 and the original Academy was superceded by a new organization, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Sullivan was also named its first president. The rivalry between the two coasts only intensified as the Emmys almost turned into a sporting contest, with both cities keeping score on how many statuettes they took home. With the demise of live primetime dramas produced in New York, the balance of power tilted increasingly in the direction of Los Angeles in the 1960s, and the New York portion of the Emmy telecast was essentially reduced to news awards. By 1968, the news winners were not invited to accept their Emmys on stage but rather were relegated to rising from their seats en masse and having the statuettes delivered to their tables. Local NASTA chapters were also organized in such cities as Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.--all nurtured by the New York chapter as a way to counterbalance Hollywood's growing power. In the late 1960s, the Academy formed a foundation in order to establish a television archive, and the site chosen for the repository was the University of the City of Los Angeles. NASTA's New York co-headquarters was shut down in 1970, and a year later the New York portion of the Emmy telecast was eliminated by NBC to save money. A separate primetime Emmy awards telecast for New York news awards was tried in 1973 and 1974, but poor ratings forced its cancellation.

The "Divorce" of 1976

As the most powerful chapter of NASTA, Los Angeles began to question why Academy members in middle America should have an equal say on peer-based awards. The schism between Hollywood and the rest of the organization reached a head in 1976 when New York and the smaller chapters joined forces to defeat a Hollywood-backed candidate for the presidency. Angered, the Los Angeles chapter sued for the dissolution of the Academy, which led to "the divorce." After a year of legal wrangling a settlement was reached, resulting in the organization splitting into two academies. New York-based NASTA would be responsible for daytime, sports, news, international, and local Emmy awards, while a newly formed ASTA retained the more prestigious primetime Emmy telecast. Bitterness lingered between the two sides, as both pursued their separate agendas. ASTA launched its magazine, Emmy, in 1978, then reestablished the foundation in 1988 to pursue fund raising activities and to operate and expand upon the Academy's educational programs. In the late 1990s, the foundation established a library at the University of Southern California.

The primetime Emmy awards ceremony, however, remained the Academy's most visible function and continued to have its share of unusual moments. In 1981, the awards were boycotted by both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists as part of a strike against the network. None of the emcees appeared and only one actor, Powers Booth, showed up to accept his Emmy. Due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Emmys were twice postponed.

The long-term practice of rotating the Emmy telecast between ABC, CBS, and NBC was disrupted in 1987 when the new FOX network sought to gain credibility by outbidding the established networks for the broadcast rights to the ceremony for the next three years. Ratings were poor on FOX, which lacked the nationwide coverage of the other networks. ABC then became the sole network of the Emmys from 1990 to 1992, after which the Academy decided to return to its "wheel" concept of alternating networks, with FOX now included in the rotation. This arrangement was once again threatened in the fall of 2002 when cable giant HBO presented the Academy with a five-year $50 million offer for the Emmys. In the preceding weeks, the Academy had attempted to negotiate a richer deal with the networks, arguing that the show was worth more than what the broadcasters were paying. The networks increased only the annual license fee from $3 million to $3.3 million, a mere fraction of ABC's seven-year $350 million contract for the Oscars. Faced with losing the Emmy awards to cable, the networks were angered at first, with CBS even threatening to boycott the ceremony, but in the end they countered HBO's offer with a $52 million eight-year agreement that called for a $5.5 million fee for the first four years and $7.5 million for the final four years. Although the Academy took less money than HBO had offered, it was clearly pleased with its new deal.

The rivalry between ATAS and NATAS cooled as new leadership, uninvolved in the divorce of the 1970s, took over. At the very least, the two sides had to work together in order to keep the Emmys vital in a changing media landscape. For instance, in 2002 NATAS wanted to create a Latin Emmys for Spanish-language programming but needed ATAS to sign off on the idea. Cassyd, who died in 2000, maintained that reunification of the Academy was inevitable. The heads of the rival groups were at least on speaking terms and began to hold meetings to discuss common concerns. Whether this thawing out would one day lead to a full reconciliation, however, remained to be seen.

Principal Subsidiaries: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.

Principal Competitors: National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Further Reading:

  • Albinak, Paige, "The Emmy Goes ... Nowhere," Broadcasting & Cable, November 18, 2002, p. 6.
  • Milano, Valerie, Natalie Casale, and Dom Serafini, "If the Emmy Wins an Award, Who Gets It?," Video Age International, January 1, 2001, p. 1.
  • O'Neil, Thomas, The Emmys, New York: Berkeley, 1998, 642 p.
  • Schlosser, Joe, "Emmy's Parents to Remarry?," Broadcasting & Cable, August 27, 2001, p. 16.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 55. St. James Press, 2003.