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Emmys: How producers choose who's in the In Memoriam reel

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One of the most talked-about segments at every Emmy Awards ceremony is who made the cut—and who was left out—of the In Memoriam segment. There’s no way around the ickiness of the situation, and it’s a hard choice that Emmy producers have to make every year.

During the Emmy Awards panel at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Thursday, executive producer Don Mischer (who took the stage with host Andy Samberg and Television Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum) shed light on what exactly goes into the decision.

“It’s really one of the tough assignments you’ve got when you’re producing, and it’s the same with the Oscars,” said Mischer, who will produce his 12th ceremony with this year’s 67th telecast on Sept. 20 on Fox. “We compile a list and it’s got hundreds of names on it and we try to make the best decision we can, knowing that we’ve got about…three minutes and forty-five seconds to actually do this piece. But I can tell you, having done the Emmys many times, it’s very tough.”

Mischer revealed that every year, the producers receive phone calls and letters—though he’s reluctant to call it “campaigning”—from families of departed industry professionals to have their relatives included: “We’re contacted frequently from people hoping that their loved one can be remembered, and it’s difficult. And it’s not perfect. But we make the best decisions we can make under the circumstances….we have many people who look at the list from different points of view. The Academy’s a heavy participant of it. And we do due diligence. We’re way into that process already [for this year] and we hope that we make the best decisions. It’s difficult.”

The topic is noticeably buzzier this year after the Oscars failed to include Joan Rivers (among, certainly, dozens of other deserving names) in the memoriam segment. As this year’s Emmys host, Samberg empathized with Mischer about the daunting awards show task. “Having nothing to do with it, it just seems like an impossible job,” said the actor. “There’s no way to quantify an individual’s life against another’s. I imagine you have to go with recognizability.”

Mischer says that, in the commercial break preceding the segment, he’ll often ask the audience to hold their applause until after all photos are shown, out of fairness for the deceased. Still, any TV viewer knows that audience members will clap loudly for the most recognized names. Mischer says he hasn’t considered cutting the sound feed to the telecast to avoid the unfair phenomenon. “We’re not going to do a trick or anything like that,” he told reporters. “We just hope people feel it, and generally speaking…people have respected that and understood.”

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