A letter sent Wednesday to newly minted Emmy nominees and/or their PR reps inadvertently provides some of the details for the Jimmy Kimmel-hosted and -produced Primetime Emmy Awards show that ABC will broadcast September 20. The opening line confirms, as the letter indicates, what we already knew: The Emmys are going virtual.
“We’re delighted and honored to be producing the event on September 20th and have every intention of not only making sure that it is not compromised by this crazy moment in our lives, but that it is the most memorable Emmys ever and that you have a wonderful night,” reads the letter, which was obtained by Deadline sister site Variety. “As you’ve probably guessed, we’re not going to be asking you to come to the Microsoft Theatre in downtown LA on September 20th. This year, it’s still going to be TV industry’s biggest night out… but we’ll come to you!”
This is actually heartening for me to hear since I have suggested, more than once, that a way to beef up the moribund Emmy ratings may be handed to the Television Academy ironically because of a worldwide pandemic forcing them to change the format. Just before nominations voting ended, I suggested again this virtual ceremony is a genuine chance to reinvent the show, and maybe send a signal to other organizations as to how it can be done.
In my July 10 “Notes On The Season” column, here is what I said after watching a less than exciting attempt at a virtual show by the NATAS-produced Daytime Emmys on CBS:
“Done right (like the NFL draft), this is a real opportunity for the Emmys to turn around a dismal ratings trend by being forced to completely remake the show minus an in-person group of nominees and presenters, and the glamour of the red carpet. It might be logistically challenged, but going live with all the nominees in all the categories on camera from their homes as the envelope is opened would certainly solve the problem of feeling canned like the Daytime Emmys felt. Time will tell.”
Since then, we saw Tuesday the dismal attempt by the TV Academy to stage a virtual nominations announcement, but I have much higher hopes for what might occur on the actual September broadcast.
Today’s letter to nominees, signed by executive producers Jimmy Kimmel, Ian Stewart, Reggie Hudlin, Guy Carrington and David Jammy, clearly indicates what I previously suggested is exactly what they have in mind. “At a time like this, we’re taking the opportunity to create a moment that is more relaxed, more entertaining, more enjoyable not only for you, but for the millions watching at home. It’s still television’s highest honor, and we never want to lose the significance of being nominated for, and maybe winning, an Emmy, but we’re going to do in a way that is appropriate to the moment (and guarantees you a memorable night)… We are assembling a top notch team of technicians, producers and writers to work closely with Jimmy Kimmel and with you and your team, to make sure that we can film with you (and loved ones or whomever else you choose to be with) at your home, or another location of your choice. We’re going to make you look fabulous – we’re exploring the cutting edge of technology to allow to use good cameras and lighting and look forward to working with you to produce your unique ‘on screen’ moments,” the 72nd Emmy Awards producers said.
Before handing off to talent producer Jen Proctor all the logistical details of dealing with the nominees and their reps who normally would be in lockstep with their clients on the red carpet, the producers also offered some fashion tips which take into account that many of these Emmy hopefuls may be coming in from different time zones in different parts of the globe. “If you want to be in formal wear, we’d love that, but equally if you’re in the UK and it’s 3am, perhaps you want to be in designer pajamas and record from your bed! We want to work with you to style your moments, but want you to guide us on your levels of comfort – where you want to be, who you want to be with, what you want to wear etc.”
The Television Academy and the producers aren’t yet giving exact details of the show will work, but remember ABC already has extensive experience in this regard by staging the final weeks of this season’s American Idol live from the homes of the top 10 — and it worked out quite well. Kimmel is, in addition to being a great host who is smart on his feet, also a very shrewd producer. In fact he is nominated this year twice, not only for his own series Jimmy Kimmel Live for Variety Talk Series, but also in Variety Special Live for his Norman Lear sitcom reboot “In Front of a Live Studio Audience,” which also won the Emmy last year in the same category. He seems to thrive on the logistical challenges of doing live TV, and that can only benefit the Emmys, which nabbed its lowest ratings numbers ever last year and are desperately in need of a reboot themselves.
As long as they avoid the canned feel of the Daytime Emmys, which had nominees record an “acceptance speech” in advance in order to pull off their ceremony, today’s letter indicates a much more ambitious and potentially exciting approach that will keep the winner’s name in the envelope until it is opened on the broadcast. The question I have for the producers is if they will actually be sending the Emmy statuette(s) to the nominees’ homes to be presented should they win, or how that part of it will work. Both the Oscars and Emmys in recent years have offered instant engraving, with each potential winner’s name already preset to go on the statuette when they got to the Governors Ball. Maybe a variation of that could work in a virtual Emmys — or even potentially the Oscars if the need arises next April. Kimmel and ABC know about that show, too.
However it is done, you can be assured this will be a Primetime Emmys show like no other as the letter to nominees makes clear. “We cannot ignore the circumstances, and aside from NOT being able to come together in one place, we also acknowledge that our world is going through a challenging moment in many ways,” it reads. “We’ll be producing an event that is filled with warmth and humanity, which celebrates the power of television to bring us together and to help us shape our world. You are an essential part of that story.”