When it comes to Hollywood awards shows, Don Mischer has become the go-to man — this year will mark the 14th time that he will produce the Primetime Emmys. “We’re happy to be back,” says Mischer, who’s deep into planning this year’s kudos fest, along with his partners, Charlie Haykel and Juliane Hare. Here, he offered Variety a sneak peek of what to expect come Sept. 20.
How will this year’s show be different?
First of all, the nominees are more inclusive and diverse than any time in recent memory. No blue-ribbon panels anymore when it comes down to selecting the winners. That’s going to open up the whole process. It’s much more open voting, and the nominees have reflected that. You’re going to find the same thing on Sept. 20 when we open the envelopes.
Andy Samberg is this year’s host. What will he bring to the show?
He’s very likable. He’s very funny. He’s multi-talented. He can make great films. He can perform. He’s quick on his feet. He can roll with the punches. He’s going to bring a great energy to the show, which I hope will lift the pacing and the tempo of the show from the very beginning to the end. We know from doing these shows in the past that keeping the show short and funny but really on a track to move through the evening efficiently makes a big difference on how you spend the three hours watching it. And I think Andy Samberg is particularly gifted in this area. He’s got tons of ideas already.
What ideas has he suggested?
Nothing’s been accepted or adopted yet. Everything’s on the table. Everything’s in flux. Andy has an “SNL” background where decisions are left to the last minute.
How comfortable are you with that as a producer?
What you want more than anything is for it to work and for it to be funny. It would be nice for us if we had material ahead of time. But part of our job is working with the host and the host’s team of writers and guiding them toward where we need to be. At this point we’re prepared for anything. You never know what’s going to happen when you produce these things. You look for those sparks and surprises and unpredictability. That always tends to make it better — like in 2013 when Jennifer Lawrence was walking up the steps at the Oscars and slipped and fell. I was directing that show, and social media just blew up and the ratings spiked. Being a little bit uncertain about what’s coming next can really help when it comes to live TV.
So you’re going to spill something on the steps?
You bet! Maybe we’ll put a little trip wire.
Samberg is famous for his pretaped videos with his Lonely Island crew. Safe to assume we can expect that?
That’s heavily being considered at this point. I think we will end up doing one or two pretaped pieces. He’s done really well with those.
Last year the show was on in August. How happy are you to be back in September?
Very excited! Last year we were really worried about doing it on a Monday night logistically. We were only able to close one street down around what’s now the Microsoft Theater. Now we’re back to being able to close four or five streets. This year, we’re going to be following an NFL double-header on Fox. And the entire Fox NFL team will be doing the pre-game and post-game show on the red carpet. It will help us out in terms of pulling an audience when the game is over. I, of course, am rooting for a game that’s decided on the last play of the game. And maybe we run into a little overtime.
Any races you’re especially excited about?
Each year there are races that people probably are paying more attention to. Jon Hamm has been nominated eight times and never won. Will this be the time that he wins an Emmy? Amy Schumer is extremely hot right now in terms of pop culture. Will she win the first time out? Another thing that’s new this year is the TV Academy split variety series into two awards, talk shows for “Daily Show” and Colbert and sketch shows for “SNL” and Amy Schumer. Both those categories are very interesting and generally speaking, the nomination packages are very humorous and the winners are funny. I think that’s going to help make it more exciting this year.
There’s also the chance of a black woman winning lead actress in a drama Emmy for the first time in history.
Very likely. That’s quite a category. It would be wonderful if that happened. As a producer, the two things that make the most difference if a show is perceived as being successful is who wins and what they say — and as a producer, we have absolutely no control over either.
How challenging is it to put together the “In Memoriam” segment?
It’s difficult. There are dozens and dozens, sometimes hundreds who deserves to be in the segment, and we’re limited to about 34 to 35 based on time considerations and precedent. We want to represent not just the familiar faces. You never walk away feeling it was perfect. You do the best you can under the circumstances. As often happens, things change at the last minute. One year when I was producing the Emmys, we lost an actress the morning of the actual show. Last year, we lost Robin Williams 6 or 7 days ahead of the show. You have to be ready to make adjustments right until the last minute. But it’s one of the most important segments of the show.
What do you worry about most on Emmy night?
Part of the job of being the producer is anticipating everything that can go wrong. You wouldn’t believe what I worry about. I worry about lights falling down. I worry about security. I worry about what happens if we have an earthquake. You hope you don’t have to play off people. That could be the highlight of that person’s career, and you worry about how many of those am I going to have to do. The more you worry, the more you anticipate what could happen. So when things go wrong, the better prepared you are to handle it.
Do you have a favorite Emmy moment?
I look back at the shows we’ve done, and more often than not, you look at what didn’t work. Why did I ever think that was going to be funny? But sometimes, you look back and you feel you made the right decision. Last year I felt that way about the Robin Williams piece we did with Billy Crystal, where he was walking off the stage pretending to hold the hand of his son. I think we got that one right.