The tables were set, the flowers were arranged and the alcohol was ready to flow.
The Unity Dinner, this year’s toned-down answer to the Governors Ball, was almost completely set up. Then, all of a sudden there were thousands of place settings … and nobody to use them.
Los Angeles and New York had made extensive preparations for Sunday’s Emmycast but the postponement left hundreds of people scrambling — from nominees to limo drivers to caterers.
While service businesses have different policies regarding cancellations, it was a sure bet that a lot of companies lost a lot of money.
The Shrine’s Exposition Hall was decorated with gold chiffon flowing from the ceiling for the Unity Dinner. Three chandeliers hung overhead and 221 tables were ready for the first course: “exotic lobster salad.”
“You have to rock ‘n’ roll with this,” said party producer Cheryl Cecchetto of Sequoia Prods. “It’s nice for guests to see your work but we haven’t had that.”
“You take pride in what you do and you work on it for six months,” design coordinator Inna Poncher said. “And then it’s here and gone. And then three weeks later, it’s here and gone.”
After the decision was made, the questions became: What to do next? Leave the room up or tear it down? Save money by returning all the rentals immediately or see if the Emmys would be quickly rescheduled?
Eventually, a plan was hatched to donate the Unity Dinner centerpieces — with fresh pears, apples and grapes — to hospitals. It was decided that the food would be given to various local missions and shelters. (The menu: filet of beef with butternut squash, risotto cake, spinach and napa jus.)
Press box lunches were stacked outside, and anyone who wanted one now was invited to take what they could. (Original plans called for people to hand over a “dinner” ticket.)
“I’m feeling the pain,” said photographer Jeff Kravitz, who was skedded to shoot the event for HBO. “What I would have made on this would have covered a couple mortgage payments.”
Most limo service have a two-hour cancellation policy, which means most will not get paid because there was sufficient advance notification. “We lose money on this now,” Jeff Partridge of Stone Canyon Starlite Limousine said, “but you hope it’s just a postponement.”
The main event
Inside the auditorium, the post-modern set, flanked on both sides by large monitors, remained empty Sunday afternoon, except for the occasional stagehand who unplugged microphones or removed positioning tape. Across the public address system, a constant flow of instructions asking people to stand their post could be heard before the news conference began.
When it did begin, CBS topper Les Moonves, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences chairman-CEO Bryce Zabel and Emmy exec producer Don Mischer wasted little time in explaining everybody’s disappointment.
Two of the show’s most anticipated attendees — host Ellen DeGeneres and Walter Cronkite, who was skedded to open the show from New York — were told of the decision at different points of the morning.
Mischer met with DeGeneres outside the auditorium during the show’s rehearsal and broke the news. “She had tears in her eyes,” Mischer said. “She was introducing several of the emotional segments, specifically one that detailed how the world had come together in support of America.”
To that end, there were, according to Mischer, “six or seven segments that would have touched everyone in a very special way.”
Cronkite was told of the move after Mischer mentioned to him that today’s events would alter the opening remarks. The writers were already working on new material when Mischer then had to say that the show would be called off.
“He understood that the initial changes were necessary,” Mischer said, “and he certainly understood, as news reports were becoming clearer, that a cancellation was the right thing to do.”
After the press conference ended, Moonves, Zabel and Mischer were available for more questions, while Emmy officials were ordered to “pull the plug” on all phone lines as quickly as possible.
Before the show, security was, as expected, everywhere — every entrance had several scanner-wielding officers who checked every bag and every person — but the “trust” line was blurred several times when food deliverers, coffee refillers or people who just “looked” like they were part of the show went through the metal detectors unchecked.
After the announcement of the postponement, the only people allowed in were members of the press, while those who had not heard about the decision were turned away when they arrived.
Surprisingly, there was still confidence in the honor system. One security guard even suggested that everyone be allowed in because of the heat … and that they be checked later.
After writers and photogs staked out their territory, a satellite feed that was supposed to carry the broadcast shifted to CBS’ Dan Rather, and photogs, looking for anything to shoot, took pictures of the television sets and the empty stages.
When final word came down that the Emmycast had been nixed, a photog posted a sheet of paper on the media tent’s stage wall. The note had a single word: “Canceled.”
Considering this was the only official statement before nets announced the news minutes later, people were jumping at the opportunity to photograph the one-sheet while waiting around for the official press conference.
When it came to “strictly business” questions, Moonves got more than a little frustrated with one journo who asked why NBC broke the Emmy news first. “This is not the time for scoops,” Moonves said. “There really is no discussing how somebody got this story before someone else.”
Minutes before the official word, a memo from the Los Angeles Event Photographers organization was circulated denouncing the elimination or limit of freelance photographers from H’wood events — a practice undertaken to limit security risks.
“We understand and support the need for additional security for the safety of the guests attending the events as well as our own,” the letter said. “However, a more secure environment is not automatically created by eliminating our coverage of events.”
In an almost threatening tone, the letter said that, due to the recent tightening of security in Hollywood, “some of the consequences are that studios receive less advance publicity for their products, fund-raising orgs will not get the attention they deserve and magazines will have difficulty filling their pages with a variety of images.”