A new column chronicling events of the Emmy Awards season.
We have Oscar season barely in the rearview mirror when all of a sudden this week Emmy Season kicked in with ABC and the Television Academy’s official announcement of Jimmy Kimmel as host of the Primetime Emmys which will air September 18. That will be preceded by the first ever two — count ’em, two — nights of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Saturday and Sunday, September 10-11 (with three identical matching Governors Ball post-celebrations for each show). That’s a LOT of gold-winged statuettes to hand out, and so it should be no surprise that the campaign to land them has already begun in earnest with networks and production companies plotting their strategies on how to get the attention of the 18,000-plus voting members of the TV Academy.
Essentially we are looking at the same kind of long slog of a six-month window the movie awards take from September through February. No rest for the weary. And in this regard, as Deadline recently announced, this website will be sponsoring our first Emmy Contenders event, an all-day primer Sunday, April 10 at the DGA with presentations from networks and channels and talent Q&As.
But kicking things off in style this week was NBC and Universal Television with a lunch in West Hollywood to celebrate their slate of Emmy hopefuls. It was a fun event with cool conversation with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Ray Liotta, Seth Meyers, Aaron Paul, Jane Lynch, the group from The Wiz and Superstore (including stars America Ferrera and Ben Feldman along with EP Justin Spitzer), Mark Burnett of The Voice, Freddie Highmore of Bates Motel and many more from shows such as Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master Of None, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Carmichael Show, Blindspot and the Dolly Parton NBC Christmas movie Coat Of Many Colors.
But as it does so much these days, much of the conversation I found myself in revolved around the current presidential campaign, which will really be heating up come Emmy time. Lynch, two-time Emmy winner for Reality Show Host for Hollywood Game Night (she actually puts the trophies on the show’s set for each taping), told me she is a die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter but seemed a little concerned about the Trump phenomenon. As she has consistently been winning Emmys in the category and Trump has never been nominated for NBC stablemate Celebrity Apprentice, I asked why she just doesn’t run for President herself, using that apparently all-so-powerful reality platform to launch a campaign.
“Yes, I could do that and then right at the end I make a dramatic statement and turn all my delegates over to Hillary,” she laughed. I mentioned what a big fan I am of the Christopher Guest movies she’s done, especially Best In Show, and she said she’s excited about a new one that gang is doing for Netflix airing this summer called Mascots, about the world of competitive mascots. Only sad part is Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy couldn’t participate due to another commitment.
Lopez and Liotta were also holding court with their Shades Of Blue producers Jack Orman and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, but inevitably the talk turned to politics as Lopez lamented the fact that their gritty NBC Thursday night drama has been stuck competing with the Republican debates — just as it did again last night — but the show has already gotten a quick renewal thanks largely they say to Live+3 ratings. It has become a strong time-shifted performer in that regard as well as Emmy contender for its stars. This is the kind of edgier show cable can do without network restrictions, but Lopez and Liotta say NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has made good on his promise to give them creative freedom. “Ray’s character even got a blow job on the first episode,” they said.
Lopez is proud of her work in the series, saying television right now is where the real content is. She even compares her unglamorous NYPD cop to some of the critically acclaimed early work in her career, particularly Out Of Sight with George Clooney. “It took me two hours to look like this today, but only 15 minutes for this character,” she laughed. As for her other current TV work on the final season of American Idol, she says she has already started crying. “I know Ryan (Seacrest) is going to be a mess on that last show,” she said while agreeing with me that though this is the end for a while, it may not be the last we see of AI, certainly a show that doesn’t seem to get all the credit it should for creating genuine stars. Ironically that show also has had to compete with GOP debates on Thursday nights.
Meyers, with the week off his talk show Late Night With Seth Meyers, flew in for the day and also talked politics when I asked if it just couldn’t get any better than the material these candidates are giving him daily. “Actually I am not worried about having enough when the election’s over because there is always stuff out there,” he said. He also noted he is far more comfortable now opening his show sitting behind the desk (ala Weekend Update from his SNL days) than the traditional standing position for the monologue. “At first I was reticent to make the move behind the desk, but right after I did it I knew it was the right thing for me,” he said. Meyers said he missed doing SNL at first but likes where he is now. He offered praise to the latest team doing SNL‘s Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che, saying it’s always hard to follow someone who has done it and honed it for a long time. “I mean look who I had to follow,” he laughed.
Three-time Breaking Bad Emmy winner Aaron Paul tells me he wasn’t necessarily looking to jump into another series, but Hulu’s The Path (debuting March 30) was irresistible. He co-stars with Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy in this crisis-of-faith story which rolls out with a 10-episode start on Hulu’s streaming service; unlike Netflix and Amazon models, each episode will be unveiled in the more traditional weekly manner. Paul has been getting lots of movie work and is on screen right now in Triple 9 and Eye In The Sky, but he says this show is, quality-wise, the kind of thing he has been looking to do following the impossible-to-follow experience of Breaking Bad.
The Wiz Live group also made the rounds with Shanice Williams (Dorothy), Elijah Kelly (Scarecrow) and Amber Riley (Addapearle) joining producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to remind the gathered press attending of the success of this third live musical TV production in as many years for them. Both producers agree it is by far their best to date, and was certainly the best reviewed of their trio that includes The Sound Of Music Live and Peter Pan Live. It’s been a learning curve, Meron indicated, but they have definitely hit on something with the return of TV event musicals like this. Fox imitated it also with great success with a terrific Grease Live and likely will be competing for Emmy gold against The Wiz. Problem is where to place these shows in the competition — as Zadan points out they aren’t movies. The producers the past couple of years have been competing with their own Oscar shows (which they produced 2013-2015) in Special Class programming, and that is likely where Wiz will also land. With a lot on nominations, that could mean having to attend all three Emmy shows and balls this September. Awards-show vet Zadan winced but admitted it would be a nice problem to have.
Speaking of the Oscars, Zadan and Meron told me how happy they were just to be able to watch at home this year without all the pressure of delivering a mammoth undertaking of that size. Zadan also said the extra time has freed them up to pursue their other projects now including several big-screen movies including Monster High and a suspense thriller with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both set up at Universal. As for their next NBC musical outing in December, it will be the already announced Hairspray for which Zadan says they are getting lots of big-star interest. Hopefully they get lucky and find a new talent like the exceptional Williams, who literally walked in off the street and won the role of Dorothy over 600 other girls in line.
It’s quite a ride for Hairspray, by the way, which started as a cult John Waters movie, became a Tony-winning Broadway musical, then a hit movie musical, and now to become a big TV event. One person who won’t be in it is Riley, so effervescent as Addapearle in The Wiz: She told me she’s headed to London’s West End to play Effie in the (believe it or not) first-ever London production of Dreamgirls. If the London production clicks, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Zadan and Meron lining that one up for one of their Live NBC musicals as well.