The virtual Emmys could give a much-needed jolt to the fading awards show

With Emmy nominees at home, we could see a lot of this.
With Emmy nominees at home, we could see a lot of this.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Sunday’s Emmys will be the most chaotic in history. That might be just what the 72-year-old award show needs to stave off irrelevance.

Due to the pandemic, the Emmys will be virtual this year. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel will “host” the event, which honors the best TV shows and actors of the last year, at 8pm ET on ABC Sept. 20 from an empty Staples Center in Los Angeles. All of the nominees, presenters, and performers will be scattered around the world, broadcasting from their homes. They were each sent a package with a laptop, microphone, ring light, and high resolution camera to shoot themselves during the show—essentially serving as their own directors for the night.

“Every week, these folks come into our houses. Now we get to go to their houses and see what they are doing,” Emmys co-executive producer Reginald Hudlin said Sept. 16 on a call with reporters. Hudlin, who directed the 1990 film House Party and was once the president of entertainment for BET, is co-producing his first Emmys. (He previously co-produced the Oscars in 2016.)

The at-home Emmys should provide a fun new wrinkle for viewers compared to the stale broadcasts of normal years. Nominees will accept awards from their couches in designer pajamas. They could involve their kids or pets. They could be asleep when the camera cuts to them. Anything can happen.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the show—and the logistical nightmare of coordinating hundreds of live feeds from nearly a dozen different countries—the producers expect there to be issues. That’s also part of the fun.

“It’s not going to work properly all the time. It’s just not, and we’ve just got to embrace that,” co-executive producer Ian Stewart said.

Whatever happens, it’s clear the night has to be different from previous ceremonies. US TV ratings for the Emmys plummeted last year to an all-time low of 6.9 million viewers. The combination of cord-cutting and a tedious format has left the Emmys in a precarious position. Without some new energy, what was once one of the most-watched entertainment events of the year could eventually fall into obscurity.

The producers are well aware of the trend line. They think being forced to change things up will inject enthusiasm into what they admit is a historically repetitive night.

“I call it ‘award fatigue,'” Stewart said. “It’s another award and another award and another award. Someone walks out with a mic, a nomination, bang, a winner, etc. So what we tried to do is go, ‘Why don’t we break all of that up? Why don’t we try to do this stuff really differently?'”

Because of the technological limitations, there won’t be a Red Carpet. Instead, the producers hope the home fashion and decor will make up for it. They also promise to experiment with how awards are presented.

Ultimately, though, they don’t really know what’s going to happen—and that’s the point.

“[Actors] will be sitting alone at home, eating a can of beans. I don’t know,” Hudlin said. “We are going to find out on Sunday when we turn on all of those cameras.”