By Lynette Rice
August 04, 2010 at 06:59 PM EDT

If half the awards presented during the annual Emmy telecast bore you to tears, you’re not alone: The Big Four networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) are keenly aware of that fact and are always eager to make the ceremony more viewer-friendly. The trouble is, their need to increase the ratings—the show hasn’t exceeded 20 million viewers since 2000—doesn’t always coincide with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ mission to reward excellence, including honoring a bunch of writers, directors, and pay-TV movies that most viewers have never heard of. The ­requirement to air all 27 categories— more than any other awards show—will certainly dominate the dis­cus­sion this week when the networks begin talking with the TV Academy about the future of the Emmy telecast, and how much they’re willing to pay to keep it on broadcast. The current contract expires after the Aug. 29 show, hosted by Jimmy Fallon on NBC, and the Big Four are itching to shake things up—even if that means allowing the Emmys to move to cable. Gripes one Big Four suit, “How can we be expected to pony up more money for what continues to be, with few exceptions, a show that celebrates cable TV?” (The TV Academy declined to comment.)

In the short term, Emmy producer Don Mischer has his work cut out for him come Aug. 29: Though the show is slotted for three hours, he has only two hours and six minutes to hand out all those Emmys and pay tribute to a great year of TV (the rest of the time goes to ads and NBC promos). “So many great shows said goodbye this year…Lost, 24, Law & Order, Monk,” says Mischer. “You could make a really wonderful package of film on shows that said goodbye, but that kind of thing takes time. It really depends on how we pace the show.” Meanwhile, Mischer and the TV Academy have already raised the ire of the unscripted community by taking the relatively new category of Best Reality Show host and relegating it to the Creative Arts Emmys on Aug. 21.  A spokesman for the TV Academy explains that it was never a requirement for the category to be included in the prime time show, which will feature the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award on Aug. 29 for the first time in six years. The recipient is George Clooney, who could be a bigger draw than reality show nominees like two-time winner Jeff Probst (Survivor), Tom Bergeron (Dancing with the Stars), Heidi Klum (Project Runway), Ryan Seacrest (American Idol) and Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race).

The reality host category made it into the prime time show last year because CBS allowed the show to run five minutes over – which opened up more time in the broadcast, the spokesman said. This year, NBC wants to end the telecast on time. The category for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, however, will remain in the prime time show: This year’s nominees are Project Runway, Top Chef, The Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. (For information on the rest of the Emmy nominations, click here).

As for the decision to eliminate the hosting category, Probst is trying to stay positive. “While it’s disappointing, it doesn’t take away from the honor of being nominated,” Probst told EW. “I’m still thrilled to have our work acknowledged. I’m trying to change our Survivor shooting schedule so I can attend.” – With additional reporting from Dalton Ross