Awards Season, But Make It Virtual

Stephen Tornetta
July 31, 2020

It’s been a hot second since I wrote a blog for ChatterBlast, but in light of this past week’s Emmy nominations, it felt like a good time to get out the ol’ typewriter to talk about what the 2020–21 awards season might look like in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

All of the winter 2020 award shows happened before we went into quarantine, and The Tony Awards, which usually happen in June, were cancelled entirely.

(As a sidenote, I do think this was a missed opportunity for some creativity, especially coming from an industry that is usually so imaginative and creative. At minimum, they could have dug up some archival footage of past Tony performances and had a host comment on them or had some of the big Broadway stars sing a song or two from home. Because New York theaters were shut down before April 23, there were not even nominees this year because all the eligible productions hadn’t even opened yet! I digress.)

The Emmys situation

So far, the Television Academy, has gotten one step further than The Tony Awards: They were at least able to announce this year’s nominees digitally. In the world of monotony that we’re all currently living in, I think that this was also a missed opportunity to drum up some excitement online to get people to watch the announcements. In a normal world, most people wouldn’t necessarily care about the nomination announcements, but let’s be frank, we’re all very bored and might have joined the live broadcast had we’d been made more aware.

Maybe this is what will turn 2020 around.

Now onto the awards themselves and what they might look like. Right now, the only information we have is that they will be broadcast on ABC on September 20th at 8pm. Though it’s certainly a possibility, I think it’s highly unlikely that the show will be a live, socially-distant event with the guests sitting six *seats* apart from each other in masks. That seems bleak. Even as I type that it also seems totally tone-deaf to imagine rich actors in couture clothing, flouting their richness as many Americans are currently out of work, or worse, dealing with the fallout of a family member affected by COVID-19.

More than likely, we’re going to get a hybrid version of a live event show, similar to what happened with several of this spring’s Saturday Night Live episodes, where there will be a “host” but no audience. While this isn’t ideal, it could be a nicely pair-downed compromise to reflect the reality of the world we’re all living in. After all, joy has to exist at the same time as everything else. It’s not one or the other. 

From an advertising standpoint, I think this is a great opportunity for the Emmys to create some excitement by making this year’s awards “something like you’ve never seen before. New things to see while maintaining some familiar things for past award shows.” The structure of the show could be very similar to the regular LIVE version, but with all the announcements of winners pre-recorded.

Start taking notes, producers: 

Follow me on this: After a hilarious opening monologue, it seems totally possible for host Jimmy Kimmel to say:

“Our first category is being presented by the Emmy Award winner, Glenn Close…” 

From there, we cut to a pre-recorded Glenn from home, so as to reduce any technical difficulties,  with the regular spiel before the category:

“All of these women are nominated for their great work as best actress in a limited series or TV movie. The nominees are…”

It then cuts to pictures or video clips of the nominees in their respective shows while Glenn announces their names:

Glenn would then pre-recorded herself saying  “…and the winner is…” with every nominees name, so that she wouldn’t actually know who wins until it is announced the night of the show. RuPaul’s Drag Race does it this way for the finale every year to keep the winner unknown in the age of digital leaks of information.

We finally segue seamlessly to the winner’s pre-recorded acceptance speech or even a cut to a LIVE version of their acceptance, but that would open it up to more technical difficulties. Then, rinse and repeat for the rest of the show.

I think it could really work while maintaining some regular programming we’re used to in a world that couldn’t be any further from “normal” at the moment. If someone like me, who doesn’t work in TV, can visualize this, I don’t see why the experts at ABC couldn’t make this dream a reality. 

Aside from the fact that we’re not going to see ANY award show fashion on the red carpet, the shows are about a human connection and recognition of the artistic work. This year’s Emmys might not be like regular, but I think it’s the perfect opportunity to lean into that.

After all, if you can’t fix it, feature it!