Top Takeaways From the Primetime Emmy Awards — a Normal, and New Normal, Production

Author: Casey Gale       

Emmy Awards

Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where cutouts of celebrities made up the “live” audience. (Courtesy ABC)

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards — which celebrates a steadfast quarantine companion, television — aired on Sept. 20, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting live from an audience-free Staples Center and nominees tuning in from approximately 130 locations around the world. “You know how hard it is to try to get your parents to FaceTime? Multiply that by a lot,” Kimmel cracked in his opening monologue, acknowledging the complexity of the production and the potential for technical glitches.

For this Convene editor and award show devotee, the hard work paid off to create a program that was charming mix of normal and “new normal.” Here are some of the top takeaways for event professionals:

Emmy Awards

Zendaya, winner for best lead actress in a drama for her role in “Euphoria,” accepts her award surrounded by friends and family. The Emmys filmed honorees from many locations. (Courtesy ABC)

Where the Budget Allows, Production Value Matters

Jimmy Kimmel and a select few presenters, like Jennifer Aniston and Sterling K. Brown, presented live from Los Angeles to maintain a sliver of award show normalcy during this uncertain time. Meanwhile, winners accepted their awards from their homes or hotel rooms. Though it sounds like a production disaster waiting to happen, the three-hour event went off without a hitch. How?

“A lot of [work] is focused on production quality, to make sure we’re not making the Zoomies; we’re making the Emmys,” executive producer Reginald Hudlin told the Los Angeles Times in a Q&A before the event aired. “Make sure we have quality images, quality sound. That we have an interesting shot.” To accomplish this, producers sent camera kits to the nominees’ locations. If their comfort level and local COVID-19 safety regulations allowed, film crews set up the shots to achieve the best quality possible. The result was an evening of livestreams free of the echoing, pausing, and glitching so many of us have become accustomed to in our Zoom meetings.

Emmy Awards

Host Jimmy Kimmel made it clear that speeches and other presentations — like one featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington — were taking place live from different locations. (Courtesy ABC)

Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Process Part of the Event

When Convene shared top takeaways from last month’s green-screen-laden MTV Video Music Awards, we noted that while the tech-heavy approach was a creative way to put on an award ceremony during the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t feel authentic. The show tried to pass off pre-recorded performances as live and soundstages as real venues — a practice that felt off to viewers.

The Emmys took a decidedly different approach. Hudlin also told the Los Angeles Times that he felt it was important to be transparent with the audience about how the show was made possible. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s part of the appeal of the show,” he said. Kimmel described exactly how the show worked in his opening monologue, even revealing a movie theater–sized screen that displayed many of the livestreams of nominees, so there was never a question of where an acceptance speech was being given or if it was live.

Emmy Awards

Someone in a hazmat tuxedo delivers the best lead actress in a comedy Emmy to Catherine O’Hara for her role in “Schitt’s Creek.” (Courtesy ABC)

Embrace 2020 for What It Is

2020 has been a challenging, strange year that has forced people across the world to maintain physical distance from one another, making live events more challenging than ever to pull off. Rather than ignore this reality, the Emmys accentuated it in fun and humorous ways — like having people in hazmat suits made to look like tuxedos show up at winners’ locations to give them their Emmy award in person. When this wasn’t possible, nominees were sent special boxes, and the winner’s box shot out confetti and their Emmy award when their name was announced live. While the show didn’t have all of its usual glitz and glamour — some stars wore t-shirts or pajamas, while others dressed in tuxedos and gowns while sitting on their sofa — it was clear that the producers leaned into the reality that this was going to look very different from previous Emmy events, and that was perfectly okay.

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.

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