UPDATED, with comments from Stephanie Cutter: In a year when Covid-19 forced so many in-person political gatherings to become made-for-TV virtual moments, it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that the Emmys would recognize one of them: a special to commemorate Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Celebrating America: An Inauguration Night Special, which was hosted by Tom Hanks at the Lincoln Memorial, was nominated in the Variety Special category, along with the Grammys, the Oscars, the Super Bowl Halftime Show and Stephen Colbert’s Election Night special on Showtime. The inaugural special also garnered a nomination for music direction, and Colbert’s special also was nominated in the writing and production design categories.
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An Inauguration Night Special was executive produced by Ricky Kirshner, Stephanie Cutter and Glenn Weiss who also directed and is Kirshner’s production partner. They also were the team behind the Democratic National Convention. They also submitted that weeklong event, almost all virtual, in the Nonfiction Special or Series category, but it did not get a nomination. The cancellation of most of the Milwaukee convention’s in-person gathering forced planners to reimagine the event into celebrity-hosted nights with speeches, musical performances and a memorable, across-the-country roll call.
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In an interview, Cutter said that both the inauguration and the convention were produced “in such precarious and difficult circumstances.” The inaugural special came together after a difficult election, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and, just two weeks before, the Capitol insurrection. The latter proved to be a logistical challenge, given the heightened security on the National Mall.
Cutter said that another challenge for the special was that planning started late, as it took four days for Joe Biden to be declared the winner and then weeks before government officials would release funds to finance the transition.
She said that in planning for the special, they thought of “how do we bring people together as Americans after such a difficult year, difficult several years.”
The special featured performances in Washington from Bruce Springsteen, John Legend and Katy Perry, as well as others from around the country, including Yo-Yo Ma in Boston and Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake in Memphis.
Am Emmy win for an inauguration special would not be altogether unprecedented: We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, held two days before Obama’s inauguration, won a Daytime Emmy for writing in 2009 and was nominated in four other categories. Another inaugural special that year, The Neighborhood Ball: An Inauguration Celebration, also received a nomination for Weiss’ directing.
As expected, Saturday Night Live — with cold opens typically focused on Biden and Donald Trump — was nominated for Variety Sketch Series, along with HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. Nominated again for SNL were Alec Baldwin and Maya Rudolph, who already have won Emmys for playing Donald Trump and Kamala Harris, respectively.
The nominations also highlighted the issue of voting. Nominated for Pre-Recorded Variety Special was HBO Max’s A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote, the latter being the group created by former first lady Michelle Obama. It’s competing in the category with Bo Burnham: Inside, HBO’s David Byrne’s American Utopia, HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion and Disney+’s Hamilton. Also nominated in the category was Netflix’s 8:46 – Dave Chappelle, produced in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
Apple TV+’s Boys State, about the drama and divisions when teenage boys come together to form a government, received a nomination for Documentary or Non-Fiction special, while Amazon’s Stacey Abrams documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, received a nomination for Writing.
Abrams herself was nominated in the Character Voice Over Performance category for the Black-ish Election Special.
Cutter said that the convention and the inaugural may change the way that future political moments are produced, whether it be conventions or inaugural concerts.
“I think in the future both the inauguration and conventions will be a hybrid model of some people in person and others participating virtually,” she said.
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