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Emmys Governors Ball Producer Says ‘We Want to Do the Unexpected’

The Emmy Awards are not just a night when a select few get celebrated onstage for their individual achievements in television. They are also an opportunity for the entire television industry to reflect on the past year. And that’s the mission that drives Cheryl Cecchetto, who has produced the Governors Ball, the celebration that follows the awards show, for the past two decades.

Cecchetto and her team at Sequoia Prods. try to outdo themselves every year with every element of which they are in charge, from color schemes and art installations to performances and table settings.

“When I first started, it was tablecloths and flowers and some chandeliers,” Cecchetto says of the progression from working on the 50th Primetime Emmys to this year’s 69th. “But now it is a massive production. It’s ‘Game of Thrones’ in New Zealand, but we have one take, and we don’t edit because it’s live,” she says.

Cecchetto was already producing the Governors Ball for the industry’s biggest film awards, the Oscars, when she was tapped to do the same for TV. She credits Geriann McIntosh, the Television Academy’s ball chair at the time, for bringing her in.

That year, the Creative Arts Emmys were in Pasadena, but the Primetime Emmys were going to be held in the Shrine Auditorium. McIntosh knew Cecchetto was familiar with the venue from her Oscars experience, so she recruited her to work her magic. “We had to move the whole thing in a week,” recalls Cecchetto.

Cecchetto, who wrote a book called “Passion to Create: Invitation to Celebrate” about her history in the business, was initially interested in getting involved in the Emmys because it was a different world from film. As years have gone by, there has been more crossover with the people attending the events, but the Emmys have grown exponentially larger as an overall event. That keeps Cecchetto on her toes.

By The Numbers
Cheryl Cecchetto’s company, Sequoia Prods., is responsible for the biggest afterparties of the year.
100+ Years of collective experience shared by all team members
1990 Year in which Sequoia Prods. was founded
32 Top entertainment and lifestyle clients

Cecchetto’s first year, 1,800 attendees attended the Creative Arts event and 3,000 turned out for the Primetime version. Now, there are three events — two back-to-back for Creative Arts, as well as Primetime, which Cecchetto says expects 4,000 attendees on its own. The three events combined see about 8,800 industry players.

“The television industry has grown immensely, and so has the Television Academy itself,” Cecchetto says. “And so I followed suit. As it became more sophisticated, as it became more intelligent, as it had a larger family, I did the same thing with the balls.”

Cecchetto says that the numbers often “command the vibe” of the event year to year. The larger the audience, the more she wants to stun with big, bold designs. She considers the 64th annual event in 2012, which was dubbed “the year of the rose,” a highlight.

That year’s ball chair, Joe Stewart, gave her one instruction: “Give me red,” recalls Cecchetto. Taking that one word direction from Stewart and combining it with inspiration from a Richard Serra exhibit she had just seen in Toronto, Cecchetto came up with the idea to install a 120-foot rose in the center of the ceiling. She then made it a completely immersive experience.

“Everything was in red, not just the massive rose we built,” Cecchetto says. “The tables had something like 200,000 roses on them, and our band was called the Red Hot Band. There were 12 incredibly gorgeous women that sang and danced. It was just mind-boggling how fantastic they were.”

Another recent highlight: when Andrea Bocelli performed with David Foster and a full orchestra in 2015. “That was a one-of-a-kind experience,” Cecchetto says.

Cecchetto says she pressures herself to continue to top previous events. “I believe in the phrase that ‘you are only as good as your last gig,’ so I want to make sure every gig is great,” Cecchetto says. “We want to do the unexpected. We want to get what’s happening this year. We want to wow.”

In order to accomplish all of this, Cecchetto has grown her team. Sequoia Prods. started out as a trio but now has almost 20 people on the roster — people without whom Cecchetto stresses she could not do these events.

“Jerry Perenchio used to say that it’s not about the man, it’s about the brand, and that is how I work,” Cecchetto says. “Sequoia is a tree, and I might be the trunk, but what would a trunk be without limbs and leaves?”

Sequoia works “like a family” with the Television Academy, says Cecchetto, who has been particularly grateful to Sheri Ebner, director, Primetime Emmy Awards, and Julie Shore, VP of awards, as well as all of the Academy presidents and chairmen she has worked with through the years.

“They all bring something to the table which allows you to get out of your own bubble. They layer your world,” Cecchetto says. “We wouldn’t have grown to where we are today without them and without the vendors.”

Beyond the new themes year after year, it is those partnerships that keeps Cecchetto coming back. “I am still so inspired,” she says. “I actually feel like I started yesterday!”

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