Shortly after news of military strikes in Afghanistan reached the U.S., CBS president Les Moonves and Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chairman Bryce Zabel decided to postpone Sunday night's Emmy Awards for the second, and possibly last, time. ''We're not at this point calling it a cancellation,'' Zabel cautioned. ''For now, we're just postponing. But obviously, we're going to have to look at this very quickly.''
Sunday night's program was to feature a live statement from New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as well as a segment with CBS news icon Walter Cronkite. ''He was going to talk about how television makes us witnesses to history, both good and bad,'' says show producer Don Mischer, who worked with Cronkite on a hasty rewrite after the morning's attacks but before the show's ultimate cancellation. ''But when we told him we had canceled the show, he said, 'That feels completely appropriate. That's the right thing to do.'''
Pre-taped segments scheduled for the show are now in a state of flux. ''They may be relevant and be used in the future at some point,'' says Mischer. The show's finale, for example, which showed NYPD officer Daniel Rodriguez singing ''America the Beautiful'' before a choir of 300 Los Angeles area college students, was taped in rehearsal and may air in full on CBS in the future (an excerpt aired Sunday night on ''60 Minutes''). But if the Emmys are rescheduled, most of this material probably won't be in it. ''The show will be different, if it happens,'' says Zabel. ''It will never be the show that was going to be on September 16th, or the one that was going to be today.''
The decision to delay the Emmys on such short notice will be an expensive one. Zabel estimates that the cost will be in the millions for the Academy, and notes that the 3,000 gourmet dinners ordered for the night's Unity Dinner -- as well as the auditorium's lavish flower arrangements -- were donated to the needy. ''We're exposed, as I'm sure the network is,'' he says. ''But the Academy takes the position that this isn't about dollars. It's about doing the right thing.''
Also hit hard by the postponement was host Ellen DeGeneres. The comedian, whose new sitcom ''The Ellen Show'' has received a so-so response from both critics and audiences, would have benefited from the large-scale exposure the awards would have given her. But the impact was ultimately more personal than careerist. ''She was somewhat devastated by this,'' says Mischer. ''She was introducing several emotional segments in the show, one of which reflected on how the world had supported us in all these different countries in all these different languages. When she was done rehearsing that, I could tell there were tears in her eyes.''
DeGeneres isn't the only one reeling from the aftermath of Sunday night's cancellation. Moonves, facing a financial hit and a scheduling nightmare, was criticized after NBC, not CBS, broke the news that the show had been postponed. ''This wasn't about competition or scooping somebody,'' he shrugged. ''The fact that NBC News got it, bless them, I'm happy they did.'' And the network chief refused to dwell on the millions of dollars wasted or the business difficulties ahead. ''To call this a no-win situation is the understatement of the year, and I think we're all sick to our stomachs,'' he said. ''This is one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make. But I was at Ground Zero last week. Guys, this is just television.''