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Acting Categories Propel International Emmys

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What an irony it is that last night's 33rd International Emmy Awards gala in New York will be given little or no airtime by the very same international broadcasters who were being feted at the glitzy bash.

The biggest media turnout ever for the awards was anticipated by the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences before the event. That's because, for the first time, the awards included best actor and best actress categories, according to academy president and CEO Bruce Paisner, who is also president of Hearst Entertainment.

But worldwide television broadcasts of the event itself are limited to China and Italy. Paisner is philosophical about the dilemma. "I would love to see the International Emmys ceremony on television all over the world. But having said that, I do understand the difference between us and (the U.S. Emmys, the Oscars and the Golden Globes). The (talent) being honored here may be well known in a particular country but in other countries there is no frame of reference."

The academy, however, is continuing to develop its festival of worldwide television programming that coincides with the awards gala. Paisner hopes this will serve as a focal point for broadcasters to find top-class international programming. "If we can't find established broadcasters (to air nominated programs), we may explore the Internet. But I think this is going to be big," he says.

However, Paisner highlights the fact that the International Emmys, which have had a relatively low profile in the past compared with the industry's numerous red-carpet events, are finally beginning to get some serious media attention around the globe. "My understanding is that we have twice as many press from around the world at the gala as we have ever had before, and I believe that's related to the fact that we now have best actor and best actress categories."

The nominees are so well known in their own countries, and indeed internationally, that many entertainment journos from the various countries were covering the event for the first time Monday. Nominees included France's Thierry Fremont, Britain's Rhys Ifans, David Walliams and Catherine Tate, Brazil's Douglas Silva and Carolina Oliveira, China's He Lin, and Norway's Anneke von der Lippe.

Of course the $6 million question is, if the new actor categories caused such a stir, then why didn't the academy think of this years ago?

"A number of reasons," Paisner explains. "One, there was a comfort level with what we were doing (the international awards have been focused on behind-the-camera talent and programs up to now). Also, there was always a concern that this was a slippery slope. You have best actor, then what? Are you going to have best supporting actor and actress? And what next? We decided that for the foreseeable future these will be the only two categories (for acting).

"A third reason was the question of whether you could really compare performances on a worldwide basis. If you have an actress from Brazil and one from the U.K. and one from China, would jurors be able to balance the fact that they are from different cultures? My feeling was that this is not a problem because we were already judging programs from China and Brazil and other countries and had balanced all the cultural (considerations).

"I would also say that I think people from most other cultures or countries are more used to living with and dealing with cultural differences than Americans are."

The jurors for the International Emmys were chosen from a multitude of countries.

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Steve Brennan writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

For more news from The Hollywood Reporter, click here.

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