ABC, TV Academy Nearing Decision on Fate of Emmys Telecast

Michael Schneider and Elizabeth Wagmeister

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The Television Academy and ABC are getting closer to announcing how this year’s Emmy Awards will be presented. Insiders confirm that there will be more clarity on the telecast by next month.

Normally by this time, an Emmy producer will have already been hired, with plans underway for the September telecast. A host is also usually announced by this point — except for last year, but that’s because the 2019 Emmys wound up going without one at all.

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Of course, this year’s Emmy plans, like everything else, have been sidetracked by the COVID-19 pandemic. That led the TV Academy to push back the first-round voting period to July and the nominations announcement by two weeks, to July 28. But the actual Primetime Emmy awards remained scheduled for Sept. 20 — and the event is still moving forward, as planned.

Rob Mills, ABC’s senior VP of alternative, specials and late night, confirmed to Variety that the show will go on, but says there’s no update on the telecast just yet, “other than they’re going to happen in some way shape or form, but we have a little bit of time. Because we have the benefit of time, it’s much easier to figure it out. I don’t know what they’ll look like, but they will happen.”

Mills noted that unlike the question facing the Academy Awards, given the closure of theaters across the country and the cancellation of film festivals that usually serve as a road to the Oscars, there’s no issue of whether there will be a shortage of content to recognize. (Quite the opposite, actually, in this era of Peak TV, where there’s arguably too many shows for the limited number of nomination slots.)

“The [Motion Picture] Academy has had a harder time because movie theaters are shut down and they’re figuring out how features are going to be released,” Mills said.

“The Emmys are still going to happen,” Mills said, “But we still don’t know what they’re going to look like because we just don’t know where the winds are going to blow in the next few months.”

Indeed, it’s unclear what TV events will look like by September, as the nation is already slowly relaxing stay-at-home regulations. As Variety reported on Thursday, MTV is drawing up plans to broadcast its annual Video Music Awards on Aug. 30 from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. How it plans to do that is unclear, but it’s a sign that producers are looking to broaden the scope of productions in the coming months beyond the mostly at-home remote programs that have been the staple of quarantine TV.

More immediately, most upcoming award shows are still relying more on celebrities and others participating from their homes, including the upcoming remote Daytime Emmys this June 26 on CBS, a virtual edition of the BET Awards on June 28, and a special edition of ESPN’s ESPYs on June 21.

ABC has had plenty of experience in remote telecasts, including “American Idol” (which was produced from 45 different locations when it returned with its virtual editions last month), “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from Kimmel’s house, and two different “Disney Sing-A-Long” specials, the second of which featured more elaborate effects than the first.

Given his position as ABC’s late night host, Kimmel could very well take the helm of this year’s Emmys, either from his house or a closed soundstage, depending on what the show winds up doing. Whether the Emmys would move forward with telecasting from its normal Microsoft Theatre location seems unlikely right now — but again, a lot can change before September, and MTV’s bold VMA attempt might trigger others to do something similar.

It’s also unlikely that such a ceremony would take place in front of an audience, as Hollywood notables aren’t likely to be ready to rub shoulders at that point. “I think we’re all pretty used to being in our sweatpants and I think it would be very hard to imagine getting all dressed up,” said one producer.

Whoever winds up hosting the show — along with the presenters joining in, either at a socially acceptable distance or via virtual means — will have to strike the right tone for the night. But producers contacted by Variety also agree that they think an Emmy telecast could come at the right time to both serve as a communal, virtual gathering (perhaps with a charitable component) and a way to celebrate the entertainment, and the people who made those programs, that helped get everyone through these rough times.

“I would imagine that like my family, a lot of other families are watching TV together in a way that they haven’t in a while,” said one producer. “Think of the kind of positive things that TV has brought us in terms of not just entertainment but also information, and how it’s something that people have relied on. It does feel like that’s something that could be tapped into for the ceremony as well… It can focus more on what we’ve all been through rather than just the normal celebration of TV.”

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