Would you let your kids watch eight hours of TV in one day? Didn't think so. What about for three days straight? That's what's being asked of the jurors of the International Emmy Award semi-finals, taking place in Abu Dhabi this week. The three-day judging spree is the latest location on a 15-stop series of heats taking place around the world in the lead-up to a glitzy New York ceremony in November.
The jurors are selected from across the global television industry, each having worked in their field for at least five years. These experts are currently holed-up in a screening room at the Cultural Foundation, feasting on the best original TV that Asia, Africa and the Middle East have to offer. Details of what's being shown, where it's from and what the jurors think are being kept strictly under wraps. What's known is that the Abu Dhabi event is being used to judge the region's entries for three of the 15 categories: Children and Young People, Documentary and Non-Scripted Entertainment.
Once all of the regional heats are complete, organisers will be able to draw up a shortlist of shows for the final ceremony and the individual nominees will be invited to walk the red carpet at the New York event. The three-day television marathon in Abu Dhabi, which ends today, will see the jurors watch over 100 programmes from countries famed for their TV, like Japan and India, as well as submissions from lesser-known producers.
Last year, more than 800 programmes were considered across all 15 categories. It also saw the first win by a Middle Eastern producer. The Jordanian programme Al Ijtiyah (The Invasion), a drama about life and love during the 2002 Israeli invasion of the Jenin camp in the West Bank, scooped the Telenovella award. All entries for the semi-final are either dubbed or subtitled into English, so that language barriers don't hold back the international jury and every entry gets a fair shot. Programmes are judged on their concept and execution and the jurors are asked to fill in questionnaires about what they see, with conferring and deliberation strictly outlawed.
"The judges are really very diligent and professional. They are all interested in what's happening across the region," says Nathaniel Brendel, the director of Emmy judging for the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "Usually when we are judging comedy there is a lot of laughter from the judges and when we are judging current affairs - when you see very, very tough programmes - a lot of people will start crying. There might be surprises when you're not used to content from a certain country, or some programmes intended to shock."
Despite jurors taking part in eight-hour screening sessions for three days straight, Brendel says he is confident that the experts can maintain their attention and give every programme a proper viewing. "It's a safe amount to watch and you can still have a fair judgement, but it is a long day." Brendel also hopes that the jurors will return to their home countries with a better understanding of what makes great television, after viewing what other countries have on offer.
"TV is their life, it's their work, it's what they love," he says. "It would be a shame if they watched good quality programmes and didn't try to make contact with the producers or take influence from them. Hopefully it will raise the level everywhere. "One part of the academy is to recognise excellence, but if you can help getting there, it's even better," he says. The semi-final judging sessions are being hosted by the UAE-based film production company The Frame. The company's managing director, Tarif Sayed, says hosting the event is a sign that the TV and media industry in the UAE is now coming of age.
The final nominees for the International Emmy Awards will be announced in October at the media industry showcase Mipcom, in Cannes. The award's three interactive categories will also be awarded in a separate ceremony held during the event. To qualify for the International Emmys, a programme must be produced outside of the US or in a partnership between a US producer and those in other countries. The UK was the big winner at the 2008 event, scooping seven out of a possible 10 awards.