In 38 years of managing the Emmys, more than half of its 70-year history, John Leverence has faced everything from the demands of a changing television industry to the nightmares of tickets to a guilty statuette of cause bodily harm.
As senior vice president of awards for the television academy, he has seen Emmy categories double from 60 to 122, tickets go from 1,500 to 9,000, and the ceremony surpasses the 3,000 and 5,000-seat theaters and packages his current headquarters, the 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater.
Despite his long tenure in office, Leverence still gets angry with industry members who can not get a seat for the best annual TV celebration. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, HBO’s Game of Thrones and FX’s Atlanta are among the candidates for Monday’s awards and illustrate why this has been dubbed the second golden age of television.
But Leverence has long observed the impact of honors, with the newly crowned winners arriving behind the scenes holding their trophy and looking stunned and lost.
“I think it’s because when you hold that Emmy, you realize that, suddenly, something extraordinary has happened to you and is symbolized by a beautiful trophy,” said Leverence.
Date: Tue, Sep 18 • 6:00 AM GMT+6
Location: Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles, California, United States
Hosts: Colin Jost, Michael Che
He has received his own: the Founding Award Syd Cassyd, named for being the founder of the academy and recognizing the service to the organization. It’s a highlight of his academic career, said Leverence, a former professor at California State University in Long Beach.
It was Leverence who helped bring the cable (followed by digital) to the emmy fold once only for air broadcasting. In 1988, a skilful solution applied television markets and ratings to new platforms to make their programs eligible for the consideration of prizes.
“If we had not realized that, then there would be no HBO, nor Showtime, nor Netflix” competing, he said. “We will hand out these awards on Sunday afternoon in the basement of the Elks Club in Muscatine, Iowa.”
(“I bet everyone in Muscatine will call me,” added Leverence, who has family connections there.)
The great and professional Leverence admits to witness some minor moments, one that involves the elegant golden statuette of a figure with wings, really sharp wings, triumphantly extended towards the sky.
“A guy was so excited that he gestured towards his friend and took his wings to his leg,” Leverence recalled of the moment behind the scenes. The injured winner returned to his seat, notoriously bloody, but with the intention of staying.
There was another encounter that took place when the recipients received prop trophies until one could be recorded and sent to them. (The current recipients keep the trophy and get an engraved plaque).
A winner refused to hand over his, rejecting with a sincere performance worthy of his own special category prize.
“‘No no! My mother is in the hospital, I know she’s going to die tonight and I have to go to the hospital with my Emmy to show her before she dies,'” said Leverence, recounting his dramatic speech.
“Of course I was lying,” he said, bewildered. “But what can you do with that kind of story?”
A red-faced moment for Leverence came in 1985, when he unconsciously gave the go-ahead to a man who turned out to be an award winner. He appeared on stage 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 night was that when I went to apologize to my boss, the cops were dragging this guy down the hall,” he said.
Then there are the recurring dreams in which Leverence roams the empty seats to meet the growing demand for tickets (free for nominees, from $ 700 to $ 800 (Dh2,570 to Dh2,937) for others in the industry).
“Why do not you sleep on the couch for a few nights?” His wife has scolded him. “I can not bear to walk in those corridors all night.”