This will truly be the year of the “Semi-Emmys.”
That term was thrown around by Television Academy executives back in 2001, when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, followed by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, forced the Primetime Emmys to be postponed twice. The ceremony back then came with a little less pomp and circumstance but was ultimately still a normal-looking awards show that took place in a theater, with dressed-up attendees and the usual kudocast formula. But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all bets are off — the only thing for certain is that the TV Academy and ABC (this year’s Emmy broadcaster) still plan to hold some sort of Emmy ceremony as scheduled on Sept. 20.
As regulations evolve over public gatherings — and the tolerance level of people to leave their homes fluctuates — it’s still a bit difficult to gauge what might be acceptable for the Emmys to attempt three months from now.
“The real thing is that the world is so completely unknown right now,” says Jane Lipsitz, partner, Alfred Street Industries. “What we would have imagined even two weeks ago has changed. And so, it’s really hard to think [about] September. Whatever the best-laid plans are, what could be happening in September could mandate a totally different creative vision or need.”
According to insiders, among the scenarios being explored for an Emmys broadcast are a fully virtual version, as well as an in-person event that could still incorporate some virtual or other “non-traditional” elements. The most important thing in determining which to choose is ensuring the health and safety of anyone involved in the show.
More immediately, though, the TV Academy’s East Coast counterparts at the National Academy of TV Arts & Sciences are planning a remotely produced event for the Daytime Emmys, airing June 26 on CBS. MTV, on the other hand, is mulling an ambitious attempt at producing some sort of Video Music Awards telecast, with or without an audience, at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center in August.
One insider says the TV Academy is also taking a look at the recent spate of virtual TV premiere events — perhaps as a model for how to throw a virtual Governors Ball.
ABC has had plenty of experience in recent months working on remote broadcasts such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “American Idol” and two “Disney Family Singalong” specials, among other productions.
But not only will the Emmy telecast’s producers have to figure out how to mount this year’s awards show, they’ll also need to rethink timing.
Perhaps the show doesn’t need to be three hours, given the (likely) lack of an audience. The Primetime Emmys hand out 26 awards during the telecast — more than any other show, including the Oscars — and that means a chunk of time is taken up watching winners get out of their seats, march toward the stage and climb up to the microphone.
There’s also the question of a host. Last year, the Emmys went without one, to mostly negative reviews. This time, even if there is a host (Kimmel is often mentioned as a choice), how to incorporate one will also depend on elements such as presenters, and whether winners can somehow break in from home with acceptance speeches.
“I think we all know that this year’s Emmys are not going to be the Emmys of the past, nor should they be,” says Adam Sher, president of ITV America. “The question is, can we find a way to still honor the hard work and achievements of people who bring high-quality television to viewers — shows that provide much needed entertainment and comfort during dark times — while not diverting money and resources to unnecessary lavishness at such a challenging moment?”
Indeed, a fundraising element might be necessary to also balance the celebration of an awards show with the sober reality of our times.
“There’s a danger that the Emmys can feel a bit self important and self congratulatory as an event,” says Dan Cutforth, partner, Alfred Street Industries. But on the positive side I feel like television has brought some kind of comfort and diversion to lots of people who have been dealing with that sort of social upheaval. There is something very positive about creative expression in that kind of dark time that can be appropriately celebrated as well.”