By Aaron Blevins, 9/20/2012
On Feb. 4, 2000, television lost a pioneer in Syd Cassyd, who died at the age of 91 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. However, the spirit of the founder of modern television continues to live on through the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
Former Academy of Television Arts and Sciences chairman Dick Askin received the Syd Cassyd Founders Award last weekend, and though he did not know Cassyd personally, he said he’s honored to receive an award that pays homage to a man with a “stellar” reputation.
“He was instrumental in founding the academy, then guiding it throughout the years,” Askin said. “I’m both proud and humbled, to tell you the truth.”
Askin joined the academy in the mid-1990s, when Cassyd had retired and was no longer active. He said the award is coveted, as only nine or 10 have been given out since it was given to Cassyd himself in 1991.
“It is an honor,” Askin said.
The award was created to recognize academy members who have made a “significant, positive” impact on the organization through their service over several years. Robert Lewine (1992), Hank Rieger (1994), Larry Stewart (1995), Thomas Sarnoff (1997), Howard Smit (2000), Leo Chaloukian (2004), Richard Frank (2007), Dixon Dern (2009) and John Leverence (2010) have received the award in the past.
Askin served as chairman and CEO of the academy from 2003 to 2005 and 2005 to 2007, and also served as the academy’s vice chair for two years. During his tenure, he helped acquire ownership of the International Television Academy, which had been a separate organization that was affiliated with the academy.
“We were collaborating, but there was really no direct control of influence of them,” Askin said, adding that the acquisition allowed the academy to control the Emmy brand. “Things have a way of taking their own course if you don’t manage them.”
While the academy was financially challenged at one point under Askin’s control, through skillful planning, the organization was able to enter into two license agreements with major networks that pushed contract negotiations to every eight years instead of every four, “which was pretty revolutionary at the time,” he said.
“Those two agreements themselves were worth about $100 million over the two terms,” Askin added. “That really solidified the finances of the academy.”
He also played a role in increasing the amount of internships at the academy, amending the organization’s bylaws to include broadband eligibility in the Primetime Emmy Awards competition and helping the academy purchase the building it was leasing in North Hollywood. Askin created the Runaway Production Committee to address the issue of TV production relocating to other countries as well.
“As a studied executive, I was always concerned that Canada and other [U.S.] states were incentivizing,” he said, adding that the academy was one of the first organizations to address the issue. “It’s an ongoing problem.”
Additionally, Askin was in office when the academy opted to move the Emmy awards show from the Shrine Auditorium to the Nokia Theatre. He said it was a wise decision, providing a larger venue.
“It was really a leap of faith, because when we leased with the theatre, it was basically a hole in the ground,” Askin added.
Lastly, the former chairman helped form the organization’s Diversity Committee, as there was no formal committee to promote diversity or recognize minorities for their achievements.
“It actually was very successful, and resulted in something that continues to this day,” Askin said.
However, each achievement that he discussed was punctuated with a nod to the academy staff and its board of directors. Askin said he can’t take personal credit for the organization’s achievements during his tenure.
“I’m just part of a bigger picture,” he said.
While serving as chairman of the academy, Askin also was president and CEO of Hollywood-based Tribune Entertainment Company, which secured the distribution rights to “South Park”, “Family Feud” and “American Idol Rewind”.
“It made for a couple of long days,” he said. “It was very time consuming, but worth every minute of it.”
Currently, Askin runs Askin & Company, an entertainment consulting firm he started in 2007. Through his company, he offers an objective eye to issues that may arise during production, he said.
“Business is good,” Askin added.
During his speech last weekend, he acknowledged the importance of the academy in the entertainment industry, thanked his colleagues and addressed the importance of adapting to change.
“It really is about honoring excellence and the people who create that excellent work,” Askin said.
Cassyd was certainly not against adapting to change; in fact, he often promoted it. Always sporting a bow tie and a smile, he was considered an expert on a variety of topics, from electronic technology to viewing trends.
Cassyd established the academy in 1946 to organize the television industry, and later founded the Emmy Awards. He wanted to create a marketplace for ideas to explore TV’s great potential.
After WWII, while working as a grip at Paramount Studios, he helped launch the city’s first TV station, KTLA, alongside Klaus Landsberg. After establishing the academy, he later served as president, although in later years, Cassyd did not back down from critiquing the organization he helped create.
In his later years, he wrote columns for Park Labrea News and Beverly Press, providing commentary for everything from politics to Hollywood to his life experiences. In one of his columns, Cassyd predicted high-definition television.
In 1996, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, cementing him in the industry’s history, as if he wasn’t already.
The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards will air at 4 p.m. on Sept. 23 on ABC, and highlights from the Creative Arts Emmys will air at 8 p.m. on Sept. 22 on ReelzChannel.