Emmys Stay at Shrine for Now
TV Academy, AEG Pull Plug on Plans for New Venue

Staff Reporter

Plans have been shelved to have the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hold its annual Emmy Awards show in a proposed theater next to Staples Center.

The academy, whose board withdrew a letter of intent for a 15-year lease on the proposed theater, said in a statement that talks were ongoing with the project's developer, Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner of Staples.

While AEG spokesman Michael Roth confirmed that talks were continuing, another AEG executive told the Business Journal last week that an agreement was unlikely.

From the outset, moving the Emmys to a Staples-adjacent theater was dependent on AEG having a facility ready by 2006. When that didn't appear likely earlier this year, the Academy withdrew its letter of intent.

Two weeks ago, AEG announced a $1 billion development surrounding Staples Center that includes a 7,000-seat Nokia Theatre Los Angeles, which would be geared to host major awards shows, concerts and theatrical productions. The Finland-based mobile phone maker purchased the naming rights for the complex, which would include a music club and an open-air plaza, and serve as one of the development's primary anchors.

Construction could begin in early 2005 and the theater could be ready by mid-2006.

AEG, which will manage and own the facility, expects the Nokia Theatre to host nearly 160 events a year at least three a week. That figure would be difficult to achieve if the theater was blocked out for 11 days with the awards show, the AEG executive said.

"We have come to the conclusion that hosting the Emmys is no longer vital to the success of the theater," the AEG official said.

In its statement, the academy noted that "talks are ongoing, and there is still an issue regarding the logistics of a venue to accommodate both the telecast and the Governor's Ball, but we are still trying to work that out."

Emmys stay put

Meanwhile, the academy is on a year-to-year contract to hold its awards show at the Shrine Auditorium, according to Kimberly Walker, a Shrine administrator. She expected that the Emmys would stay put in their 6,300-seat facility.

"If they haven't broken ground, I'm not concerned," Walker said. "How many years have they been talking about building something downtown? Even if they started tomorrow, it's still years away from getting built."

This year's Emmy Awards will take place at the Shrine on Sept. 19 and will be broadcast on ABC, with Garry Shandling as host.

The proposed theater is one component of an entertainment and retail development that also includes a 1,200-room hotel that's entitled for surface parking lots surrounding the arena.

AEG, owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, has struggled getting the project off the ground. It was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in late 2001. As the group tried to line up financing and a developer of the convention center hotel, it missed deadlines in its contract with the academy, an official familiar with the agreement said.

By the time AEG officials, project developers and local politicians gathered two weeks ago at Staples Center, the Emmys once the theater's anchor tenant had been removed from the project.

In its place, AEG said the facility would host the Latin Grammys, ESPN's ESPY awards and programs by Dick Clark Productions and cable channels VH1, MTV and BET.

The Emmy Awards show has had many homes, including the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the Shrine Auditorium near downtown and the Shubert Theatre in Century City. Since the Shubert was closed for demolition, the Emmys have moved back to the Shrine.

Academy officials have wanted a theater specifically designed for its network show, hoping for a similar arrangement the Academy Awards had in optimizing the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland for its Oscar broadcast.

Academy Chairman Bryce Zabel was given near-veto power over the design of the theater, according to an official involved in the development.

Once key to development

For more than a year, architects working on the theater's design had consulted with academy officials on what the group wanted included in the project.

"The chance to take a bigger-than-life awards show and match it with a state-of-the-art theater is the kind of stuff Hollywood dreams are made of," Zabel told the Associated Press in late 2002.

The 15-year contract worth about $150,000 annually with an option to renew for another 10-years was predicated on the Emmys being the theater's marquee event, and it blocked the Grammys or the Oscars from using the same stage.

The agreement, which potentially called for an Emmys museum to be included on the site, also allowed the academy to back out of the agreement until the end of 2003 if it was felt any component of the plan wasn't going to become a reality.

At the time of the announcement, AEG President Tim Leiweke said the Emmys deal was central to getting the entire entertainment and retail project rolling by attracting key tenants and raising the necessary funding.

Having an anchor tenant with some name recognition can also boost a theater's revenues. AEG, which manages the Kodak Theatre (but doesn't own it), gives tours daily of the venue because of its ties to the Academy Awards.

Walker said hosting the Emmys gives the Shrine an edge when it competes against other venues. "We use it to market the theater and to get new clients all the time," she said. "It's been a very nice draw for us and it keeps the Shrine in the spotlight."

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