Q&A: Emmy Producer Don Mischer on the Big Night

Don Mischer Emmy Producer

The man in the control room on Emmy night is legendary award-winning producer Don Mischer, who’s been at the helm 10 times (along with numerous Academy Awards ceremonies, Super Bowl halftime shows and more). He gives Variety a sneak peek at the plans for the big show.

Variety: How’s the planning going?
Mischer: One thing we’ve come to realize is that there’s just been a lot of good work in television. What makes the Emmys fun is that on Emmy night you get to look at the best work of the season, so I think it’s going to make for an interesting show. We have some wonderful graces. We have a host (Seth Meyers) who is very funny, really smart, completely used to live television. You need someone who can really keep the pacing of the show going because we hand out more awards than any other awards show. In terms of booking, it’s kind of mushrooming — we have some of the greatest television stars, we’ve got some great movie stars — even some rock stars that are going to be part of the program. We’re careful not to be too confident, though.

Variety: Rock stars? Can you tell us who we’ll be seeing?
Mischer: I’m just saying that we’re getting that kind of interest. There are no rock-star performances, but it represents all aspects of our culture making a mark in television.

Variety: This year there are also tight races that aren’t foregone conclusions.
Mischer: That’s very true. One of the things we always hope for are races that are close, where viewers have really strong preferences and that does create interest in the show. This year we have more of those than I think we’ve ever had in any Emmy broadcast that we’ve done through the years. I think that should help us in terms of just keeping people engaged.

Variety: What can we expect from Seth Meyers?
Mischer: Seth is really smart, very funny. He’s a fabulous writer, and he will write a lot of his own stuff. He knows live television, he’s quick on his feet, he can roll with the punches. He’ll be very responsive, do short little comedic pops and just keep the momentum going in the room. He’s got a lot of great ideas.

Variety: What advice have you given him?
Mischer: I would not be so presumptuous as to say we’re giving him a lot of advice. We will make a rundown for the show in which we indicate instances where we think he can do an introduction or make an appearance, and he responds to that. And he knows what it takes to make this work. There’ve been times when Emmy hosts have really been busy doing their own series and they can’t really devote a lot of time to preparing for it, and it all kind of happens at the last minute. That’s not the case with Seth. He’s completely committed to this.

Variety: Will he be doing pretaped bits?
Mischer: We prefer to have most of the comedy on the stage, but that’s something that we are considering. I think it’s safe to assume we’ll have one or two of those.

Variety: But in contrast to hosts of the past, he’s not a song-and-dance guy.
Mischer: It’s really about the humor. What we’ve learned over the years is you play to a host’s strengths. I think that comedy is going to be a really heavy theme. This fall we’re going to have a real focus on latenight television because for the first time, Colbert will be going up against Kimmel and up against Fallon. We’re hoping that we can get these folks involved. If we can keep people laughing and we can be a little bit irreverent at times, without being disrespectful in any way, I think that we can keep people with us.

Variety: It sounds like there’s going to be a shift in tone from last year’s Emmys, which were a little bit more somber.
Mischer: I think last year was an exceptional year in terms of people that were lost, but it’s kind of that way all the time. We have the same thing this year. I’m really surprised when I look at the list of all those people that we lost this year. And we will do something with the “In Memoriam.” It has proven to be one of the more popular elements in the show, when you look at the minute-by-minute ratings.

Variety: What did you think of last year’s show?
Mischer: I would never criticize somebody else’s show. The two things that are most important to the success of a show like this is: Who wins and what do they say when they get up there? And as producers we have absolutely nothing to do with those. We do know that we have great competition with incredible nominees who did extraordinary work. But all the rest of it, we have no control over. Gil Cates, who produced the Oscars for many years used to say, “When you count down to go on the air, the awards show gods either smile on you or they don’t. If they smile on you, you have wonderful energetic speeches, people are emotional when they accept, and you have surprised winners.” We hope we have that on Aug. 25.

Variety: What do you think makes for a good show? When you wake up on Tuesday morning, is it going to be about the ratings, the host, the upsets?
Mischer: If I could choose all of that, I’ll choose D, all of the above. What we’ve learned recently is how important the whole social network is, and the whole process of having a live-television experience. If there’s a really great joke or someone makes some comment that’s off-color, or someone slips coming up the stairs, which happened to Jennifer Lawrence a few years ago, the Twitterverse picks up on that and that drives viewers to the screen. And that’s one reason why we’re seeing more people watching these live events in the last three to four years, most live events are ticking up in the ratings maybe 7% up to 10% a year increase. It’s because of the second-screen experience. When things go wrong, it actually drives ratings up. That’s just the way it is right now.
Variety: Any races you’re particularly excited about?
Mischer: I love the drama series. I am a big fan of “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men” and “True Detective.” So those really interest me. Variety television always interests me because that’s what I work in. And who’s going to win the latenight variety series, that’s an award that I’m particularly interested in. And the last three years there was one Emmy given to either a miniseries or movie. This year the TV academy has split that into two awards. So that added one more award to our show.

Variety: I’m sure you were thrilled about that.
Mischer: I’ll be honest, as a producer you want entertaining speeches and reactions, and generally you get that from actors. Seldom do you get it from directors. But there could be a writer up there that gives an acceptance speech that is emotional or funny and that becomes entertaining as well. Steve Levitan has given some really funny speeches for “Modern Family” for years. So we just hope that people think that way.

Variety: And you’ll be playing people off the stage?
Mischer: I would love it if we never played anyone off the stage. That makes me happier than anything. When you have to roll that music it is disrespectful to them and to us as producers and even to the industry. You really, really hate doing that.

Variety: Hopefully everyone will be concise and brilliant in their speeches.
Mischer: You want to bet me on that one?

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