Emmys Return to In-Person Event But Can’t Be Completely Celebratory Amid COVID

Creative Arts Emmys
Invision for the Television Acadademy

One of the most exciting things about the shared Emmy nomination for visual-effects supervisor Stephan Fleet and VFX producer Shalena Oxley-Butler of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys” was being able to see each other in person again after a year of working remotely, over video conferencing software and email, from different countries.

But the tone when the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy nominees finally gather might not be completely celebratory. Not only did the Television Academy have to limit the number of nominees who can attend, due to health and safety guidelines amid the Delta variant of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but also, the first night of Creative Arts fell on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Hollywood always wants to — fortunately, I believe — lead the way in being responsible for whatever the issue may be,” says Darin Pfeiffer, events expert and founder and CEO of the Impact Agency. “So you want to start off being very careful and looking at the specific situation to be very sensitive to the issue at hand.”

Sept. 11 was such a transformational moment in history that it shouldn’t go unacknowledged, Pfeiffer says. The first night of the Creative Arts events took a few moments to acknowledge 9/11 both during the show and backstage. Before Ming-Na Wen presented, she said that the events of two decades years ago “completely changed our lives” but that “all of you here tonight are proof that creativity prevails in the hardest times. Art heals.”

After “Saturday Night Live” won the variety, nonfiction or reality program contemporary hairstyling and variety, reality or competition program production design awards on Sept. 11, hair department head Jodi Mancuso and production designer Keith Ian Raywood reflected on the experience of not only winning the award on such an important day, but also on going back to work in Studio 8H after the events in 2001.

“There was not a dry eye,” Mancuso said about the first show back after 9/11. “We almost weren’t sure if we were supposed to, but you knew that America had to laugh. And that was our goal. And it’s the same for COVID.”

Over the past year and a half of the pandemic and rise in social-justice movements, awareness of the world at large has become an increasingly important piece of the puzzle. In many cases, Pfeiffer says, the tastemaker events he worked on (which were mostly virtual) donated “a chunk of the budget” to frontline workers.

The fact that we are still in a pandemic also shouldn’t be ignored — though there is no danger of the attendees or audiences forgetting that fact. Attendees (nominees, guests and staff/crew members alike) will be required to show proof of vaccination and proof of a negative COVID test, taken in the past 48 hours of the show date. Additionally, the event has been moved outside and, as mentioned, is limiting the number of nominees and guests who can attend. The media were allowed to attend in-person for the Creative Arts ceremonies, but for the second year in a row, they will be relegated to a virtual media center for the Primetime event on Sept. 19.

Still, Pfeiffer says that the Emmys can go on safely and creatively is important. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the function of the event?’” he says. “You have to say, ‘Is this really adding value?’ But you want to support the industry and everybody that worked on the title.”

Furthermore, he adds that “doing it in-person, if they can do it safely, is showing that Hollywood moves forward in difficult times. I think that’s what’s been great about what Hollywood’s been doing — just plowing forward safely and with creative ways to keep the industry going.”

Lead drama actor nominee (and past winner) Sterling K. Brown agrees: “I think we’ve all learned just how social we are as creatures and that community is a necessity to life,” he says. “Isolation is not good for anyone. And while we’ve all been thankful for the virtual connections we’ve been able to make due to technology, there’s no substitution for a hug.”