Last month, when the Television Academy asked Creative Arts Emmy nominees to pre-tape their acceptance speeches, it caused a bit of a stir. Some were worried that they might jinx their chances, while others feared their videos would be leaked if they didn’t win.
Academy president Maury McIntyre says he understands those concerns, and after the organization did a round of outreach to personal publicists and awards execs, he reports that the show now has 96% participation. To protect everyone who doesn’t win, he says only winners’ acceptance speeches will be used and then saved; everything else will be deleted.
“We tried to get out very early on to say, ‘Look, for 71 years, we have upheld the integrity of this competition,’” McIntyre says. “‘We will do everything we can to ensure the integrity of these acceptance speeches. In no way will any acceptance speech be leaked out. In no way will we use them for any other purpose. If you don’t win, we’ll destroy them all. We will not share them with other people. Because we get that you don’t want to look silly.’”
Why not just go with live reactions from winners via Skype, Zoom or other video-conferencing systems? “With people just so far-flung we didn’t feel it would be fair to try to get people to dial in because not everyone would be able to,” he says. “And with the pre-tape, we wanted to challenge nominees to do a different acceptance speech. It shouldn’t just be your traditional, ‘Thank you.’ You’ve got to plan that out, you’ve got to really think about it creatively and we’re hopeful they did.”
McIntyre says a handful of nominees have asked if they can still share their acceptance speech videos if they lose, but he hopes that they don’t. “We were like, ‘I can’t tell you what to do or not do, but that just seems a little odd,’” he says.
Of course, “a little odd” could be the theme of this most unusual Emmy year. The Creative Arts Emmys, which is normally an in-person event at the Microsoft Theatre over two nights the weekend before the Primetime Emmy telecast, is now a pre-taped five-night virtual extravaganza the week of Sept. 14.
The first four shows (Sept. 14 to 17) will be streamed on Emmys.com, followed by a fifth night (Sept. 19) that broadcasts on FXX. Nicole Byer (“Nailed It”) is hosting all five shows — the first time the Creative Arts Emmys has had a host in recent history.
“Sometimes we felt that a host might slow the already lengthening show down,” McIntyre says. “But this year, we thought it was really important because of the pre-record, in order to unify everything.”
Byer will save most of her monologue and comedy for the Saturday show, and is pre-taping that and all of her segments at the Television Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters. Presenters will be filmed in various locations.
Then, as the shows go live, it will be up to producer Bob Bain Prods. — and specifically, the shows’ control room director — to balance those segments with the proper acceptance speech moments after an Ernst & Young accountant hands them the winners’ names.
The Creative Arts Emmy ceremony has always been a bit of a slog, even when the Television Academy split the show into two nights a few years ago. But because the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to in-person gatherings, the org felt it had license this year to reinvent how they hand out this year’s awards. That’s why the Academy decided to spread those 100 awards over five nights. At first glance, that sounds even more daunting. But the new setup means that nominees are in for a bit of a reprieve: Instead of spending several hours waiting for their category to be called, the first four Creative Arts shows are expected to last less than an hour. (The FXX show will be two hours.)
“We’ve all sat on Zoom calls and they can get a little tedious,” says McIntyre. “So we thought, ‘What if we did a show that was just focused on say, reality or nonfiction?’ We’ve got enough categories to do something with that. This year gave us that opportunity. So they’re going to be quicker shows; they’re going to be focused more on the groups that really are in those genres.”
Sept. 14 will focus on artisans categories for reality/nonfiction, while Sept. 15 is variety and Sept. 16-17 centers on scripted. The FXX telecast includes marquee guest star categories, and each Academy peer group also got to pick one category to spotlight.
McIntyre says it’s too soon to say if this will be how Creative Arts is handled in the future, though. “I think it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out,” he says. “We freely admit the dynamic is different. It’s a little bit of an experimentation for us, caused by all the changing circumstances.”
Meanwhile, the producers behind this year’s Primetime Emmy telecast are promising an awards show like no other — and given their constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that will most certainly be true.
As first reported by Variety, host Jimmy Kimmel will anchor the Sept. 20 ceremony from a stage in downtown Los Angeles’ Staples Center, but without any audience. Instead, nominees will be piped in via camera crews dispatched to their homes (or wherever they’re stationed) around the world.
“At the very least we’re going to give you different,” Kimmel says. “We’ve encouraged the nominees to dress up from the waist up and we hope that they will. I think it’d be funny to see people in a tuxedo jacket and bathing trunks, but that is up to them.”
Although most of the recent awards shows on TV have been pre-taped, the Emmys will be as live as possible, Kimmel says.
Reggie Hudlin and Done+Dusted’s Ian Stewart, Guy Carrington and David Jammy are executive producers of this year’s telecast, along with Kimmel. They stress that they don’t want to make it “Emmys Lite” or the “Zoomies,” but still put on a ceremony that’s entertaining and respectful of the shows and individuals being honored.
“We’re going to be doing some interesting experimentation in terms of how we’re presenting everything,” Hudlin says. “Whether it’s a performance or whether it’s a tribute, we’re looking at everything and going, ‘OK, once you remove the proscenium arch — once you say the world is your studio — then you can do some inventive things.”
Adds Stewart: “There’s a lot of experience in this producer group, having done many award shows for a long time. We feel really armed to throw everything out the window and then put it all back together again.”