Emmy nominations will set the stage for an unpredictable, virtual year


Seeking to make the best of a bad situation, the Television Academy plans to offer a virtual awards show, hosted by ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel. Notably, most of the major award shows that will follow the Sept. 20 airdate — including the Golden Globes and the Oscars — have postponed their presentations by a few months, reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the current awards ecosystem.

Television viewing has spiked since shelter-at-home orders went into effect in March, prompting people to seek out new shows and binge older ones. With so many other pastimes sidelined, TV has become one of the few reliable commodities that people can share.

At the same time, the act of the entertainment industry celebrating itself can seem a little frivolous and irrelevant in the face of such dire events. Although people are still looking for distractions and entertainment, striking the right tone isn’t easy.

The telecasts of the BET Awards and Daytime Emmys last month demonstrated that it’s possible to mount credible presentations under the virtual format, in each case by producing the show in advance; still, that approach deflates some of the elements that have traditionally defined award shows, including the spontaneity that goes with a fully live event and red-carpet fashions.
Jennifer Hudson gave a moving performance during the BET Awards last month.

Adam Sharp, president and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which presents the Daytime Emmys, said everyone is undergoing a learning process. With last month’s Daytime Emmys, that included having each nominee pre-tape an acceptance speech. Over the weekend, the organization featured more than 100 live remote feeds for its awards honoring children’s, animation and lifestyle programming, and will apply those lessons to the Sports Emmys in August.

The two academies have been “comparing notes,” Sharp said, adding that when it comes to producing award shows, “Covid-19 does not lend itself well to long-term planning. There’s going to have to be a lot of adaptability as they look ahead.”

Jason Thompson accepted an award with his family during the Daytime Emmy Awards in June.

For the primetime Emmys, interesting themes could emerge beyond the customary scorekeeping concerns, such as the ongoing battle for awards prestige between HBO and Netflix, which interrupted the pay service’s streak as the most-nominated network in 2018. (HBO and CNN are both part of WarnerMedia.)

This year’s nighttime awards possess a relatively high degree of suspense, with “Game of Thrones” — named best drama four of its eight seasons — no longer around after its record-setting run, and 2019 comedy winner “Fleabag” also out of the competition.
HBO’s “Succession” enjoyed what many saw as a breakout second season, but there’s plenty of dramatic competition, including AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” FX’s “Pose,” and Netflix’s “Ozark” and “The Crown.” Among new entries, “The Morning Show” could make some noise — particularly on the acting side — for new service Apple TV+.
Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon in 'The Morning Show'
Some of the most heated action, meanwhile, could be in the limited-series category, where HBO’s “Watchmen,” FX’s “Mrs. America,” Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” and Netflix’s “Unbelievable” are all considered strong contenders. The awards also mark the final years of eligibility for several acclaimed series that completed their runs, including “Modern Family,” “The Good Place,” “Homeland,” “Mr. Robot,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Schitt’s Creek” and “Silicon Valley.”

The unknowns in the voting could be as hard to read as the general mood of academy members amid these uncertain times, in a year that has prevented the splashy events normally associated with Emmy campaigning.

Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani in 'Silicon Valley' (Eddy Chen/HBO)

The awards will also be closely watched in terms of representation regarding people of color, at a moment when the entertainment industry joins other institutions in seeking to address its record of diversity and inclusion.

Like most award shows, ratings for the Emmys have been dropping, including a record-low 6.9 million viewers last year — a steep decline of more than 30% from the previous ceremony, per Nielsen data.

That might somewhat reduce the pressure on this year’s awards, and whatever stopgap measures host network ABC can engineer. While the old adage “The show must go on” has become somewhat debatable in the age of coronavirus, it will.

The Emmy Award nominations will be announced July 28, and the show broadcast Sept. 20 on ABC.



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