The main problem with award shows in recent years stems from the fact they seem to be produced by people who don’t like awards, or at the very least, feel inconvenienced by having to include handing them out in their variety special.
It’s not hard to ascertain why. In today’s fast-paced, demo-obsessed TV environment, there’s a whole lot of “Blah blah blah” that goes with accepting awards, which risks sending more casual viewers (and presumably, a disproportionate number of younger ones) off to see what else might occupy their time.
Still, the pendulum toward mitigating the award part of these telecasts has swung too far in the anti-award direction, to the point where the Grammys squeeze in a couple handfuls of awards amid all the musical performances. And at least they have a built-in excuse for doing that.
So can an old warhorse like the Emmys evolve into something that will meet broadcasters’ demands without completely selling out the awards and their tradition? Yes, and here are some suggestions how.
Trying to make award shows hipper, more entertaining and sexier doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the gold-plated baby out with the bathwater; rather, there are several potential ways to streamline the presenting process, freeing up time for producers to offer the production numbers and planned bits people have come to expect from these ceremonies.
For starters, grouping multiple awards together — and having them handed out by just a couple presenters — would save oodles of time on star walks to the podium, scripted (and usually cringe-inducing) banter and the filler required to break up those moments.
Producers, of course, could still work talent into the show in a variety of ways, and thus feature plenty of fashion, which has become for many more interesting than the awards anyway. But instead of having each presenter hand out one or at most two awards, bring out a well-matched pair and have them rifle through four or five — at the Emmys, all the longform categories, or at the Oscars, all the design and sound awards.
The Emmys took a logical step in this direction when organizers began segmenting the show by genre, so this would be a relatively modest move. In some instances, it might even make sense to announce two categories at the same time, bringing up winners together, letting them take turns delivering their acceptance speeches.
As for the inevitable complaint those speeches become a litany of thank-yous, they also represent the most unpredictable element within the show, and the dynamic of combining recipients might produce unexpected sparks.
Also, producers would be wise to monitor the backstage press area throughout the show, dropping in select answers culled from the Q&As, which often yield more memorable quotes than what honorees can muster in the heat of the moment on stage. Think of it like those wired basketball coaches, whose timeout talks are sprinkled out during games.
Producers should also genuinely make time for clips, especially now, when the audience is so splintered that viewers can’t be expected to have much familiarity with more than a few of the nominees. Those clips, however, should capture the essence of a series – and shouldn’t be jettisoned at the first sign the show is running 30 seconds long, which has been the pattern.
Finally, let’s be honest about what hosts bring to the party – namely, a promotional hook, introductory monologue and really not much else. In the case of the Emmys, it’s become almost expected to use the rotating event as a means of showcasing the presenting network’s latenight host (hence, NBC’s Seth Meyers this year) — not necessarily a bad thing, but creatively speaking, a somewhat limiting template.
A glass-half-full type, of course, would say award shows don’t need any fixing at all, citing relatively robust ratings in recent years as evidence. Even if that’s true, though, there’s room for improvement – starting with not treating awards like an unwanted stepchild at their own birthday party.