By LYNN ELBER
LOS ANGELES — Memo To: the Television Academy. Subject: saving the Emmys.
Last year’s broadcast drew the annual show’s fourth-smallest audience ever, watched by about 16 million viewers. Contrast that with the Academy Awards and the 40 million-plus who tuned in last February.
Lots of people clearly don’t seem to care; for them, scanning the latest product-recall reports would be equally appealing. But we do care, and we have a modest proposal that may be just what the academy needs to get this show on track: celebrities gone wild.
Put them on the Emmy stage as presenters Sunday (7 p.m. on Fox), in pairs or groups, and sit back and wait for the blockbuster Nielsens to arrive.
Consider the possibilities ...
— Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump. They captivated us with their name-calling when it wasn’t even face-to-face. (He: ‘‘She is a very, very unattractive woman who really is a bully.’’ She: ‘‘I just think that this man is sort of like one of those, you know, snake oil salesmen in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’’’) Imagine them snarling at each other live and in person! We’d buy a ticket!
— Isaiah Washington and T.R. Knight. These guys would probably like a chance to catch up, and Washington could finally get right his non-apology apology to his former ‘‘Grey’s Anatomy’’ co-star. Or not.
— Alec Baldwin and Dr. Phil. The academy could affirm its belief in family values with a quick counseling session between the actor-frustrated father and the TV therapist.
— Michael Richards and Don Imus. What a year those two have had! They could swap off-the-cuff stories about unemployment. Or maybe a rehearsal would be in order.
— Paris Hilton and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca. She was in jail; he gallantly rescued her (until a stern judge stepped in). It’s the stuff of great drama, and she can thank him on national TV. Bonus possibility: A video showing Hilton and the lawman on Rodeo Drive, as she helps him swap his uniform for a sharp tuxedo — and buys a matching one for Tinkerbell, her dog.
— Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman. The two brassy dames have proved they’re willing to shake things up: Silverman on any award show, Griffin at last week’s creative-arts Emmy ceremony with an R-rated speech. Put them together and wake up the censors!
— Mandy Patinkin and the ‘‘Criminal Minds’’ cast he abruptly abandoned. He can explain why and then accept the thanks of a grateful Joe Mantegna, who got Patinkin’s gig and the title ‘‘genuinely nice person’’ from the series’ producer. As opposed to who? Tell the audience!
— Network executives Stephen McPherson of ABC and Ben Silverman of NBC. Peeved by Silverman’s remarks about ousted NBC exec (and McPherson pal) Kevin Reilly, McPherson urged Silverman to ‘‘be a man.’’ Bonus: They perform a musical number with America Ferrera of ‘‘Ugly Betty,’’ which Silverman brought to ABC before he joined NBC, rated by ‘‘Dancing with the Stars’’ judges.
— Paula Abdul and Corey Clark, the 2003 ‘‘American Idol’’ contestant who alleged an affair with Abdul that she steadfastly denied. Sure, he seems like old news (except for that arrest last month in Arkansas), but we’d enjoy them more than a promotional ‘‘surprise’’ walk-on by the ‘‘Idol’’ trio of Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. We’ll get enough of those three come January when the show returns.
— O’Donnell, again, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. They bickered memorably on the ‘‘The View,’’ O’Donnell left and they weren’t speaking. For Emmy’s sake, put politics aside and show we can all just get along.
The Oscars obviously boast a tradition of glamour that the Emmys can only dream of matching. It’s hard to compete with the likes of beautiful Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman or Leonardo DiCaprio and how effortlessly they remind us that our lives are humdrum without them.
But the allure of celebrity hijinks, the compelling misadventures and spats of those who belong to TV’s sprawling cast, would surely help Emmy close the gap.
There could even be a whiz-bang finish: Have TMZ.com, a TV newcomer, announce a celebrity arrest complete with footage. Now, that’s entertainment.