The Emmy Awards ceremony, which has spent the past few years mooning over sensitive, artistic cable TV shows and largely ignoring popular programs on the same broadcast networks that give the trophy show a good home, is going to fling itself at broadcast shows Sunday if it knows what’s good for it.

That’s because its contract to air on the broadcast networks is up for renewal.

Remember how Scarlett O’Hara spent the better part of “Gone With the Wind” chasing that moody pest Ashley Wilkes and figured out only in the final minutes that Ashley was all wet and her husband, Rhett Butler, was her Mr. Right — except it was too late because Rhett had decided he’d had enough and snappily told her so as he headed out the door?

It’s kind of like that.

The broadcast networks find themselves in a Rhett-like position. Never again do they have to take turns providing the academy with a forum for its ever-more-ardent love letter to their cable competitors, while their own programming is rebuffed — except, of course, NBC’s “30 Rock,” which attracts so few viewers and is so loved by critics that the TV academy has granted it a sort of honorary cable show status. Last year, the academy awarded the comedy its third consecutive Emmy as best comedy series.

Adding to the networks’ sense of injury, viewers who have never seen these cable shows are bailing on the ceremony. Back in 2000, the Emmy show attracted 22 million viewers and as recently as 2005 it averaged 19 million. Now, when it cracks 13 million, that’s considered a success.

If Emmy is to avoid Scarlett’s unhappy fate, Sunday’s trophy show had better cough up big broadcast-series wins.

Happily, this might just happen. Sunday’s competition includes some new broadcast contenders that are expected to do well, and just by virtue of being in the running, ABC’s new ensemble family sitcom “Modern Family,” Fox’s campy musical comedy “Glee” and CBS’s courtroom drama “The Good Wife” are expected to bring more viewers to this year’s ceremony than it has enjoyed recently.

Academy voters also shrewdly gave multiple glam-category nominations to the final season of ABC’s paranormal soap “Lost” — a show the academy has steadfastly snubbed and has a rabid fan base.

“Glee” is this year’s most nominated show; it’s in the running for best comedy series while its Broadway-seasoned stars, Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison, are up for acting trophies, as are Jane Lynch, who plays the high school’s cheerleading coach from hell, and Chris Colfer, who plays the glee club’s sensitive Kurt.

“Modern Family” is also a best-comedy contender, and every adult member of the ensemble cast, except patriarch Ed O’Neill, is nominated: Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen.

“The Good Wife” will try to unseat AMC’s two-time winner “Mad Men” in the race for best drama series, while its star, Julianna Margulies, hopes to boot FX’s two-time winner Glenn Close as best drama actress.

“Lost” has been welcomed back for its final season with nominations for best drama, and for actors Matthew Fox, Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson.

Despite any increased interest in the ceremony on the part of these shows’ sizable audiences, this year will be particularly challenging ratings-wise, as the broadcast had to be moved up by three weeks, into the dog days of August, because it’s NBC’s turn to air the show and NBC has a contract to air Sunday football games starting in September.

To meet this challenge, the TV academy brought out the big guns. For the first time since it initiated its Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002, the award will be presented during the broadcast. This year’s recipient is George Clooney, for his “exceptional efforts to mobilize the entertainment industry in service during crises,” the academy said.

And, if Clooney is one of the brightest stars in the Hollywood firmament and a real ratings magnet — what a happy coincidence.

But, for real excitement Sunday night, don’t get bogged down with Clooney acceptance speeches or the “Modern Family” vs. “Glee” vs. “30 Rock” death match. Or even host Jimmy Fallon’s annoying use of tweets to introduce presenters.

Instead, keep your eye on your clock.

The academy will broadcast live across the country, instead of tape-delaying to the West Coast to air at 8 p.m. there, as it has for years in the belief that more people were at home watching TV in the summer at 8 than at 5. The current thinking is that the show’s biggest enemy isn’t sunlight — it’s the Web.

NBC will also replay the show at 8 on the West Coast, for anyone who did not get the memo. Those viewers will be added to the tally of folks who watched the broadcast.

To pull this off, the Emmycast absolutely has to end on time, which, of course, is practically oxymoronic. But if the allegedly three-hour broadcast doesn’t wrap up by 8 p.m. out West, fans in, say, Los Angeles — the country’s second largest TV market — who tune in to their local NBC station at 8 thinking they’re settling in for a pleasant evening of trophy-show viewing, will instead see being announced the winner for best drama series — the night’s most glamorous derby and traditionally the final category presented — from the earlier, live broadcast. This is like accidentally reading the last page of a mystery thriller, then trying to slog through the book. Can’t be done.

In hopes of bringing in the show on time, the TV academy has yanked out the competition for best reality-series host. Poor Jeff Probst, host of CBS’s “Survivor,” had to pick up his annual Emmy during last weekend’s so-called Creative Arts portion of the Emmys.

In the end, most television industry navel gazers believe the Emmy show will be back on broadcast TV after this year, like Scarlett returning home to her ancestral Tara. But they suspect that will happen only after some license-fee negotiations that play out like Sherman’s march to the sea, with the TV academy playing the part of Atlanta.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.