Sean Hayes knows what it’s like to be a guest, a voter, a nominee and a winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. But this year, he’ll experience the show from an entirely different angle: backstage, as a producer.
Hayes and his longtime producing partner, Todd Milliner, are behind the latest awards show, partnering with veteran SAG Awards producer Kathy Connell. “I think what I have to offer to the team, in addition to creative ideas with Todd, is the emotional experience that goes into being there and arriving there,” Hayes tells Variety. “What it feels like to be a nominee, what it feels like to win and what you go through the second you get out of the car on the red carpet to the entire evening.”
Hayes’s previous kudos credits include hosting the Tony Awards in 2010. This time out, Hayes will strictly stick to producing — as a matter of fact, there won’t be a SAG Awards host this year at all.
That returns the show to the host-free model that it has employed throughout most of its existence. It ran without an emcee from the time it launched in 1995 until 2018, when Kristen Bell was named host. Last year, Megan Mullally took the gig. This year, the producers decided to once again cut the position.
The awards show host-or-no-host debate has raged since last year, when the Oscars wound up not having one — and ratings improved. The Emmy Awards also didn’t employ a host, but the reviews (and audience numbers) weren’t so kind.
The SAG Awards have a good reason not to spend much time with a host: Unlike most major awards shows, which clock in at three hours or more, the SAG Awards have to cram everything into just two hours. Even with a brief monologue, a host can eat up too much time; in this case, that doesn’t leave much room to do anything other than hand out its 13 kudos — plus a life achievement award — on camera.
Without a host, Hayes, Milliner and Connell say they will rely more on presenters to provide the entertainment and move the show along. That has also freed up space to include a few comedic moments between categories. One pre-taped bit aims to have fun with this year’s life achievement honoree, Robert De Niro.
“We’re going to look at what would have happened if a few of his movies didn’t have him but had somebody else in that role,” Milliner says. “So we’ll have a segment that’s ‘Movies Without Robert De Niro.’ It’s a pre-taped piece, and we’re doing a few others as well. That’s something new — we’re trying to inject a little levity into the evening.”
The producers say they also plan to lean into the wide range of film and TV nominees. “What an eclectic mix of nominations this year,” Milliner says. “From ‘Parasite’ to ‘The Irishman,’ the breadth of genre within the genre is cool.”
Much of the show, however, will emulate those of previous years — including the signature opening, which features a variety of nominees in the audience, telling an anecdote or making a joke about why they are proud to be an actor.
“To me, it’s really the best award to get because, sure, we entertain as actors for the approval of audiences,” Hayes says, “but when you get a pat on the back from a peer, it’s pretty awesome.”
Given that this is SAG-AFTRA honoring its own members, Connell says the producers are cognizant of making the show pleasurable for attendees. “This is the toughest audience you could possibly have,” she says. “How do you make these people in this room with these stars feel like they’re having fun when they’re also nervous? Because four out of five of them are going to walk away without a statue.”
Connell says the producers’ other big challenge is finding room in the Shrine Auditorium’s Expo Hall for all of the nominated film and TV casts — particularly for shows with extensive rosters, like “Game of Thrones.”
“‘Orange Is the New Black’ was our largest by far,” Connell recalls. “I think there were 49 actors, which makes seating a little interesting.”
As for Hayes and Milliner, the producers are juggling the SAG Awards job with their Hazy Mills production slate. The shingle, which is based at Universal TV, is next collaborating with Mike Schur on the adult animated Netflix comedy “Q-Force,” which revolves around a “gay James Bond.” And Hayes is wrapping the “Will & Grace” revival after a three-episode run.
“We’ve got to get a lot in before they launch ‘Will & Grace’ for a third time,” Milliner jokes.