Following the announcement of the nominations for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Tuesday, I shared some Zoom time with Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma and president and COO Maury McIntyre to get their thoughts on a number of related topics including progress on the upcoming September 19 Emmy show on CBS, which they recently announced would be returning to a “limited” audience of nominees and guests and a live TV format.
We talked about the wide-ranging diversity present in this year’s nominations as well as the Academy’s work in that regard; the evolving changes in various categories and whether they may need to expand Limited Series, and adjust new rules for anthologies; how a taped version shot five years ago of Broadway’s Hamilton landed 12 nominations including seven for its cast; the increasing recognition of popular shows from Marvel and Disney+ plus others that until recently the Academy had ignored; plus what the dwindling ratings for awards shows, including an all-time low last year for the Emmys and Oscars actually means for their future.
We start with the Emmy broadcast itself, but the toppers had little to add to their recent announcement that the Primetime Emmys will be with a live audience at the Microsoft Theatre on CBS with Cedric The Entertainer as its host. Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart and Hamish Hamilton will serve again as executive producers.
The Emmy chiefs today also cautioned that with the Covid Delta variant still increasing, all evolving plans for the show must reflect the pandemic we are still in.
DEADLINE: After last year’s virtual Emmys you are now going back to a live audience. Is the timing right?
MAURY MCINTYRE: We want to celebrate with the nominees. We want to be able to give them recognition. We want them to be able to celebrate with their peers, but we’re cautious. We just don’t see putting 6,000 people in that theater, and having it be really wise or safe or anything like that, especially as we’re seeing these variants and everything else come up. So this is kind of our middle ground. Let’s get the people down there who really deserve to be there because they’re nominated and need to be there with their fellow nominees, but not overcrowded with a whole lot of bodies.
FRANK SCHERMA: We want people to feel comfortable, Pete, but it’s not this packed audience that they don’t know who everybody is around them and stuff like that. So it really is with safety in mind, but at the same time, as Maury said, last year, the nominees didn’t get to celebrate with each other. We didn’t get to celebrate anywhere. So we really feel that they deserve it. And we want to try and do it this year.
DEADLINE: Will there be a Governors Ball?
MCINTYRE: So we haven’t actually released any information yet or other details, but we’re expecting to do that really shortly. And then we are planning out the release on what’s going on with Creative Arts and everything else.
DEADLINE: Will you be requiring proof of vaccination?
SCHERMA: Well, that’s one of the things that’s on our list of course is, you know, we’re talking and I know I talked to them, I talked to all these specialists, these doctors and virologists and everybody, and what they expect and what they think. And a lot of the conversations that we’re having I just keep going back to, as we had to do on all the sets that we’ve had to deal with, how do we keep people safe? Because in reality, that’s the most important thing is people being safe during these crazy times and opening up as much as we can, but with safety at the forefront of all that. So if we are told that vaccinations are what we need to do, then that’s what we’ll look at. But you know, we have experts talking to us about all that stuff.
DEADLINE: The Oscars wouldn’t allow Zoom acceptance speeches. Will the Emmys?
SCHERMA: We want to have as many people celebrate that have been nominated, that they can, you know what I mean? So if that means that we have to have some people that are not there that are in London, or that are in other parts of the world, we’re going to look at all that, We’re not going to keep people from celebrating because if you’re coming in from certain countries, they’d have to sit in their hotel room for two weeks before they’d be allowed to go out or they’d have to do this or that. So if we have to do something, some sort of a hybrid we’ll do that. But that’s part of what we’re figuring out with the producers, since they’ve just been announced and are putting that together. Maury and I have a weekly call with them starting this week, and those are the things we’re figuring out.
DEADLINE: How did a taped performance of Hamilton from five years ago, originally intended for theatrical release but put on Disney+, land 12 nominations including seven for actors already Tony winners or nominees for the exact same performances?
MCINTYRE: Look, regardless of what Disney’s intent was in purchasing Hamilton, what it all really matters to us is what actually happened and what actually happened was it streamed on Disney+. So it became a tentpole property of their Disney+ streaming platform at that point, and that made it eligible for Emmys. We have always maintained that, you know, for productions that are taped for television, even though they may have originated in theater, are eligible for Emmy nominations. We’ve had that in the past, you know, great performances could have been taped, so long as it was actually somewhat redone to be sure that it was done for television. Then there are elements of that production that can be eligible for nominations including camera work, changes in the lighting design, direction for the television program and including the performances, because the performances are new for that actual taping of the show. You know, you can’t say that they didn’t originate the role for that particular performance while they’re taping it — it’s being done while it’s being taped. So, you know, we’ve had a long history of that and we’ve nominated talent from shows like that before. I think the most recent was Emma Thompson playing Mrs. Lovett and the Sweeney Todd production from New York. So that is the essence of how it came about. Hamilton is a cultural tour de force. So, you know, I think that it’s going to get the accolades it is going to get.
DEADLINE: With eight set nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series, why is Outstanding Limited Series still only five? The quality is extraordinary. Will you expand that category too considering the number of worthy shows shut out of it this year?
MCINTYRE: We certainly talk about the rules every year. And we made changes to how we do the awards committee, but that is one of the things we’re going to talk about. We will always continue to talk about how many nominations should there be. We made a change last year to how we actually scale nominations. So it is based on the number of submissions, but as you called out, Comedy and Drama were taken out of that because we did recognize that we want it to be able to represent the broader program for perspective. Can we go back in and look at that for Limited Series? Sure, and I’m sure that it will be a topic of conversation amongst the awards committee, because we’ve had a number of people ask, and we’re always open to having those conversations.
SCHERMA: What we’ve done is we really started to look at the awards because what we’ve always talked about is making sure that the Emmy still has its sheen and it’s important. And, and one of the things that we did was we completely changed the awards committee around that. It’s now an elected committee, just like our budget committee is, and it’s now an elected position, and it’s not 60 people. And it’s people who really look, and one of the things that we task them with is to look at every single award, and it’s a process — there’s a lot of awards as you know. So, I’m hoping that throughout the next number of years, we keep fine-tuning and homing in on all these awards. And that’s one of the questions that will come up and continues to come up, yeah.
DEADLINE: With popular entertainment shows like WandaVision, The Mandalorian, The Boys and Cobra Kai among others landing nominations in major categories, there seems to be a sea change among covers — less snobbish attitudes in the big above-the-line races.
SCHERMA: Well, one of the things that we also did that I’m sure you saw or read about was we that we’ve been going through our membership to make sure that it’s people that are working in our industry that are voting. You know what I mean? And I think that’s helped in terms of people who are watching shows, making shows. These are people that are in it, and these are important shows that are being made. You know, they’re Marvel shows that people are watching. They’re done really well. They should get nominated and they have been. And I really believe that that has to do with the shows that are absolutely deserving because they’re great. But I also think it has to do with more and more working members voting.
MCINTYRE: I would say, and I had to go back and look at the history, you know, Game of Thrones certainly also broke through. Yes, it was a genre show. It’s a fantasy show. You would not necessarily have thought 10 years ago, maybe you would have seen that, but look, these are really well-written, well-done, well-produced shows that deserve this credit. And I think you’re seeing that a lot now too.
DEADLINE: Overall this was a very good year in terms of the diversity of nominations for underrepresented communities.
SCHERMA: Yeah. Well, I think that that is indicative not just of the academy, but of the industry and where the industry keeps going because we can only be looking at what the industry is in order to honor what’s going on in [it]. And the more shows that are produced with diversity, the more shows that are written by people that are diverse, the more things that are done, the more are going to get nominated. It’s very hard for us to nominate people and shows when they’re not out there, and the fact that our industry is looking at that and that we’re looking at that, I think that’s been a big part of things that are getting nominated because there’s just such great shows across so many genres. And the fact that we have so many diverse people working in so many areas now — and I’m not saying that that it’s done and that we’re done with diversity, that still needs to keep going on and it still needs to be pushed — but we’re thrilled with how so many people are working on our industry, which allows us to have them be nominated for these shows.
MCINTYRE: It’s all about the authentic storytelling. And I think that we are seeing some really diverse, authentic storytelling going on. And I think that it was great that we’re able to recognize that, you’re absolutely right. We’re thrilled again to say that there are more nominees of color in the performer category and things like that, those are all positive steps. I do think even there there is a bit of an imbalance in some of the representation that we’re acknowledging, and that’s part of the work we’re also doing I think here at the academy with the whole diversity initiative that we launched under Frank, which is how can we be better advocates? How can we be out there saying we need more authentic stories about the Native American experience or about the Asian American Pacific Islander experience so that we can then recognize that? It’s coming. I think this year, you know, all of the networks that are doing new shows about the Latinx experience, because I think that when you’re all dependent on only two or three shows, it’s really hard on those three shows. We can’t really take credit. It’s a credit to the industry that they’re telling the stories, and a credit to the members that they’re recognizing the excellence of those stories. And clearly we’re thrilled at the trends. We’re seeing more and more diversity in our industry.
DEADLINE: Last year’s pandemic-affected Emmys was critically acclaimed and brilliantly executed in a challenging situation, yet it suffered the worst ratings fall in history. Are you concerned about this year’s ratings?
SCHERMA: You know, you always worry about the ratings. You know what I mean? You know, we have our partners out there, putting together the show and putting it on with them. We want it to be successful. The hard thing that we deal with of course is how people consume media these days and how people consume television. I wish there was a way for us to look at how many people were watching it, you know, on different forms, whether they looking at it on YouTube when pieces came out, or were they looking at it on streaming? I mean, I love the idea that CBS is going to put it on Paramount+ this year. That’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out. You know, you’re always in that position of, we have to honor excellence in television and the people who deserve it but at the same time you’re trying to be entertaining. So it’s how do we find that middle ground that was still respectful of the people that deserve their moment in the sun and deserve to thank people and do that, and at the same time make that interesting to people, and that’s the dilemma that we’re always up against and hopefully working with [producers] Reggie Hudlin and Ian [Stewart] and Hamish Hamilton again this year, we’re going to be able to find some of those elements to hopefully bring a little more audience to it.
MCINTYRE: I hope it’s Cedric actually. I mean there’s something new in having a fresh face as the host. I think he’s kind of the consummate entertainer. So we’re hoping to see some really fun stuff there, and I think for all the talk, the numbers are still high relative to a number of other shows. Ratings in general are down, and the audience has just fractured when you have so many different channels to watch. So getting millions of people to watch one show actually in this day and age seems to still kind of be a Herculean effort, no matter what you do.