Emmy Wrap-Up: Looking Back On A Virtual and Consequential Awards Season
In this video grab captured on Sept. 20, 2020, Daniel Levy accepts the outstanding writing for a comedy series Emmy for "Schitt's Creek," which wound up sweeping the comedy series categories. (photo courtesy of The Television Academy and ABC Entertainment)
Television’s impact, social issues, the value of diversity and inclusion mark an unprecedented industry stretch
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Sans a live studio audience, last month’s primetime Emmy telecast on ABC was like no other as reflected in varied ways, including tongue-in-cheek modes of awards presentation--such as folks in hazmat suits seen on occasion handing statuettes to winners, and a Kia promotion whereby its new K5 cars were being used to transport many of the Emmys to winners at their homes.

And while there was no red carpet, fashion statements emerged that took on a poignancy well beyond the typical superficial diversion of who was wearing what designer label. In their virtual acceptances, for example, winners Regina King (lead actress in a limited series) for Watchmen (HBO) and Uzo Aduba (best supporting actress in a limited series) for Mrs. America (FX networks) wore T-shirts featuring Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT from Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot and killed by police in March. Taylor’s face was pictured on King’s T-shirt. During a Zoom session with the media after her win, King said of Taylor, “She represents just decades, hundreds of years of violence against Black bodies. Wearing Breonna’s likeness and representing her and her family and the stories that we were exploring, presenting and holding a mirror up to on Watchmen, it felt appropriate to represent with Breonna Taylor.”

Sitting at home while accepting her Emmy, Aduba wore a black T-shirt with Taylor’s name in gold.

Meanwhile the evening’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, deftly handled the strange pandemic-induced proceedings. His opening monologue appeared to be delivered in front of a packed audience--but in fact the applauding throng was from past Emmy show clips. “Of course, I’m here all alone. This isn’t a MAGA rally,” quipped Kimmel. “It’s the Emmys.”

These moments at the ceremony have taken on even greater meaning in light of subsequent events. A Kentucky grand jury decided to not file criminal charges in the killing of Taylor. And coronavirus has swept through the White House all the way up to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, making the aggregation of people--without masks and proper social distancing--at events like MAGA rallies and the ceremonial announcement of a Supreme Court appointee in the Rose Garden seem all the more like pure folly.

In virtually accepting the best drama Emmy for Succession (HBO) from his U.K. home, series creator Jesse Armstrong (who also won a writing Emmy that night) issued some “un-thanks” to: the coronavirus from keeping him isolated from his series colleagues and unable to accept Emmy accolades in person; President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson for doing a dismal job of handling COVID-19 in their respective countries; and media moguls for helping to keep the likes of Trump and Johnson in power.

Watchmen and Succession helped propel HBO to 30 Emmys, the most of any network or streaming service. Netflix was next with 21.

Watchmen garnered the most Emmys of any program this year with 11, including for best limited series. The Emmy triumphs capped an awards season of recognition for Watchmen--not only for the art of the show but also its deep storytelling relevance in today’s society relative to racism and injustice. 

The Emmy wins came a scant few months after the Peabody Awards named the TV adaptation of the graphic comic book superhero novel as one of 30 programs in 2019 telling the most compelling and empowering stories. 

Peabody judges observed, “Damon Lindelof’s revolutionary series provides new answers to classic comic book genre questions about what it means to mask one’s identity and who gets to be a superhero. More than that, it offers a frank, provocative reflection on contemporary racialized violence, the role of police, and how Americans understand their place in the world after a large-scale disaster.” The Peabody statement concluded, “For world-building and storytelling that fuses speculative fiction with historical and contemporary realities, Watchmen deserves a Peabody.”

Another major winner was Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV) which swept all seven comedy categories on primetime Emmys Sunday--earning distinction for best comedy series, writing (Daniel Levy), lead actor (Eugene Levy), lead actress (Catherine O’Hara), directing (Daniel Levy, Andrew Cividino), supporting actor (Daniel Levy) and supporting actress (Annie Murphy). This across-the-board victory is something not even all-time sitcoms like Frasier and Modern Family could accomplish. The historic achievement brought the overall tally for Schitt’s Creek this year to nine Emmys as it earlier in the week won two statuettes during the Creative Arts award proceedings.

While Watchmen and Schitt’s Creek are worlds apart, both carry a diversity and inclusiveness in storytelling that struck a responsive chord with audiences as well as Emmy judges. 

Creative Arts ceremonies
As for the alluded to Creative Arts Emmys, they too took on a form never seen before due to the pandemic--five separate virtual ceremonies, the first four presented online, the fifth telecast on FXX, all emceed by writer/comedian/actor Nicole Byer, host of Netflix’s hit reality competition baking series Nailed It!

Among the marquee winners during the opening night (9/14) of the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony were The Apollo (HBO) which took the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special category, Queer Eye (Netflix) named Outstanding Structured Reality Program, and Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath (A&E) as Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special. 

In her acceptance speech, Remini reflected on the second consecutive year that her Scientology exposé won the Emmy, capping an eventful final season which she described as “a painful but meaningful ride.” She affirmed that this evening’s Emmy “belongs to all those who told you their stories.”

Two lauded documentaries also came up with major wins as Steven Bognar and Julie Reichert won directing honors for American Factory (Netflix) while The Cave (National Geographic) was recognized for its cinematography by Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Suleiman and Mohammed Eyad.

On the second night of the Creative Arts Emmys when the focus was on variety show categories, among the leading winners were Live In Front Of A Studio Audience: All In The Family And Good Times (ABC), Saturday Night Live (NBC), and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO).

The third night of the Creative Arts Emmys saw The Mandalorian (Disney+) lead the way with five wins (followed closely by Watchmen, which scored four, leading to its overall leading tally of 11). The fab five honors that evening for The Mandalorian--the first Emmys for the Disney+ streamer--came for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour); Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour); Special Visual Effects; Sound Editing; and Sound Mixing. The online ceremony included a virtual acceptance of the Cinematography honor by Mandalorian DPs Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS and Barry “Baz” Idoine. The Mandalorian broke new lensing ground as the cinematographers teamed with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to deploy The Volume, a massive LED soundstage. The stage featured a curved video wall consisting of some 1,300 individual LED screens that created a 270-degree semicircular background topped with an LED video ceiling, which was set directly onto the main curve of the LED wall. The remaining 90 degrees of open area contained two flat panels of more LED screens. The panels were rigged so that the walls could be moved into place or out of the way to provide whatever access to the Volume area was needed. The set was filled with LED panels that would render the actual VFX backgrounds in real time. 

Thus Fraser didn’t have to imagine as he would in using bluescreen what backgrounds would look like. Instead he could see firsthand and light accordingly to get the optimum desired look for actors and physical props. Thus there’s no disparity between the lighting of subjects and the background. Fraser built towards this tech innovation over time, making inroads with ILM on the feature Star Wars: Rogue One into a stage-for-the-future concept that helped lay the groundwork for what came to fruition on The Mandalorian. This took a substantive leap of faith for all involved, Fraser told SHOOT earlier this year in an installment of our Road To Emmy Series of feature stories.

Night four of the Creative Arts Emmys saw Watchmen pick up its fifth statuette, topping the best music composition for a limited series movie or special (Original Dramatic Score) category. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took this Emmy specifically for the Watchmen episode titled “It’s Summer And We’re Running Out Of Ice.” Additionally Quibi, the mobile phone platform which offers installments of movies and TV in 10 minutes or less, made history with its first Emmys. Quibi’s engrossing crime drama series #FreeRayshawn topped both the best actor and actress categories for short-form comedy or drama series. Laurence Fishburne won for his portrayal of police Lt. Steven Poincy while Jasmine Cehpas Jones scored in the role of Tyisha.

Jones’ win proved historic as two nights later, during the concluding fifth Creative Arts ceremony, her dad, Ron Cephas Jones earned best guest actor in a drama series distinction for his role on This Is Us.  Thus the actors became the first father-daughter Emmy winners in the same year. 

In the virtual backstage press room, Ron Cephas Jones emotionally related, “As a parent that’s the most fulfilling that I could ever feel at the moment. Winning another Emmy (his second in recent years for This Is Us) is the icing on the cake, but to see my daughter progress and move into this place where she’s earned an Emmy is beyond words and I tear up every time I think about it.”

Night five of the Creative Arts Awards also had The Mandalorian pick up two more Emmys--for original dramatic score and stunt coordination for a drama series, limited series or movie--to reach a total of seven wins.

That final Creative Arts Awards night also saw Sandy Hook Promise’s “Back-to-School Essentials” PSA--directed by Henry-Alex Rubin of SMUGGLER for BBDO New York--win the primetime commercial Emmy. The public service piece starts off as a familiar back-to-school ad but slowly unfolds to highlight students using everyday back-to-school items to survive an outbreak of gun violence, shedding light on the gruesome reality that youngsters face in the reality of classroom and campus shootings.

In remarks issued after the conclusion of the year’s final Creative Arts ceremony, Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and mother of Dylan who was killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy, shared, “We are honored and humbled that the Academy chose to recognize ‘Back-to-School Essentials’ for Outstanding Commercial. As a nonprofit organization, our mission is to end school shootings and prevent violence that harms children. The only way that can happen is if parents understand the real fears our kids have, and take action, including learning the warning signs of potential violence and speaking up.  We are grateful to our creative partners, BBDO New York and SMUGGLER Productions, for helping us develop innovative ways to reach as many people as possible with this life-saving message--and to our media partners for the donated airtime that brings the PSA into millions of homes nationwide.”

The Emmy win added to BBDO’s rich history with the Television Academy. It’s the fourth commercial Emmy bestowed upon BBDO NY. BBDO won the very first primetime commercial Emmy in 1997 for HBO’s “Chimps” directed by Joe Pytka. The agency won again for FedEx’s “Stick” in 2006. And in 2018, BBDO NY garnered the Emmy for Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk.” (BBDO also won an Emmy in the Image category for HBO’s “Foreman” in 1991.) Over the years BBDO NY has received 18 primetime commercial Emmy Award nominations.

By taking the Emmy, “Back-to-School Essentials” topped a field which consisted of Amazon’s “Before Alexa,” directed by Steve Rogers via Somesuch x Revolver for Droga 5 London; Apple AirPods’ “Bounce,” directed by Oscar Hudson of Pulse Films for TBWA\Media Arts Lab; Jeep’s “Groundhog Day,” helmed by Jim Jenkins of O Positive for Highdive Advertising; and Procter & Gamble’s “The Look” directed by Anthony Mandler via Stink Films (he has since moved over to production house Arts & Sciences) for agency Saturday Morning.

“Back-to-School Essentials” was lensed by DP Autumn Durald Arkapaw and cut by Jason Macdonald of NO6 Edit. Music house was JSM Music, with sound design and audio post from Heard City.

Reflections, perspective
To gain some perspective after the fact, SHOOT connected with Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma, president of RadicalMedia, for his reflections on the historic virtual Emmy proceedings and an unprecedented awards season. He was struck by how the industry pulled together--nominees, presenters, talent behind the scenes--to bring five nights of Creative Arts Emmys and the mainstream primetime telecast to fruition. Presenters and nominees were willing to let people into their homes--to in turn be seen by viewers in their own homes--which lent a new personal dynamic to the award ceremonies. This, he observed, brought a “spontaneity and freshness” that he hopes can be incorporated into a more traditional Emmys presentation if and when that should come to pass next year after we are hopefully back to some semblance of normality in the post-pandemic era.

Scherma added that he was “thrilled over how well Jimmy Kimmel did,” delivering on the responsibility of having to carry the show as it delved into uncharted territory. Scherma noted that Kimmel was the consummate professional, always “striving to make it better, funnier, more entertaining.”

Still Scherma noted that the industry felt the void of personal interaction this awards season relative especially to Academy events that fell victim to the lockdown. Academy members didn’t get the chance to come to roundtables and other in-person sessions to hear first-hand from creators, showrunners, performers and other talent, gaining insights into the process and collaborative spirit behind nominated content. “That was missed a lot,” he affirmed.

As for what moments resonated for him personally during the awards ceremonies, Scherma cited the presentation of the Governors Award to Tyler Perry and his foundation. The award honors an individual or organization in the television arts and sciences whose achievement is “so exceptional and universal in nature that it goes beyond the scope of annual Emmy Awards recognition.” This isn’t an annual honor but rather only bestowed when the Academy Board of Governors feels there is a deserving recipient. The Academy Board of Governors selected Perry “for his unprecedented achievements in television and his commitment to offering opportunities to marginalized communities.” 

Perry has thus far created 22 feature films, over 20 stage plays, 13 television shows and two bestselling books. The Atlanta-based producer was one of the first major filmmakers to power back up production in the wake of the coronavirus health crisis.

“Tyler Perry has changed the face of television and inspired a new generation of content creators. He pioneered a new brand of storytelling that engages people of color both in front of and behind the camera, and his shows have resonated with a global audience,” stated Governors Award selection committee chair Eva Basler. 

Previous recipients of the Governors Award include Star Trek, American Idol, Masterpiece Theater, Comic Relief, Sheila Nevins and her HBO documentary unit, National Geographic’s Planet Earth, Walter Cronkite, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, William S. Paley, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Scherma related that he didn’t fully realize the depth of Perry’s contributions to the industry and society at large until he delved into them once the Board of Governors made its decision. 

During the televised primetime awards ceremony, Scherma in introductory remarks for the Governors Award presentation shared some thoughts on the value of television--particularly during the pandemic. Those observations in many respects underscore the mindset and aspirations of the Academy. Scherma said, “Television and the stories that are told have become an intricate part of our lives--entertaining, informing and connecting us. Television is no longer just a reflection of the culture, but an invaluable part of the culture. 

“In the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, where the entire world has been forced to spend much more time at home than we ever thought possible, quality television shows have become a form of currency. We’re all clamoring for a good, new show to get lost in. And while we can’t be together in the ways we were before, we can share those shows with each other, and connect over the stories...and that connection is priceless.

“Television,” continued Scherma, “has always been the medium that helped us understand each other: be it the struggles, the joys, or the heartache.  I have seen how that opens our eyes and hopefully brings us closer together as a people. In the same way we recommend shows to each other, we can use television to open portals into each other’s worlds, hear each other’s voices, and to see--more clearly--another perspective. 

“Few have done more to widen the scope of television than Tyler Perry, this year’s recipient of the Governors Award. The Governors Award is chosen by the Television Academy Board--a group of seasoned industry professionals who dedicate their time to fostering excellence in television. The award is only given out when there is a recipient or organization who has far exceeded the high standards of our medium.”

Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock then chimed in to pay tribute to Perry.

Perry’s acceptance remarks spoke eloquently to the value of diversity and inclusion--while he acknowledged his own lack of realization on those fronts when he was a young man. Perry shared, “When I was about 19 years old, I left home and my grandmother. She gave me a quilt that she had made. And this quilt was something that I didn’t really care for. It had all these different colors and these different patches in it. And I was quite embarrassed by it. I had no value in it at all. 

"When the dog got wet, I dried him off with it. When I needed to change the oil on the car, I laid it on the ground. I had no respect for this quilt.

“Many years later, as I was walking past one of those fancy antique stores that I could finally go in and shop, I saw in a window a quilt that looked just like the one that she had given me. And as I’m in the store wondering where that quilt was, there was an attendant who walked up to me and said, ‘Let me tell you about this quilt.’

“It was made by an African American woman who was a former slave. And each patch in the quilt she had put in represented a part of her life. One part was from a dress she was wearing when she found out that she was free. Another part was from her wedding dress....

“And as I was hearing this story, I became so embarrassed. Here I was, a person who prides myself on celebrating our heritage, our culture, and I didn’t even recognize the value in my grandmother’s quilt. I dismissed her work and her story because it didn’t look like what I thought it should. Now, whether we know it or not, we are all sewing our own quilts with our thoughts and behaviors, our experiences and our memories.

“Like in my own quilt, one of my memories when I was about 10 years old, I remember my father standing at the door. And I was wondering why he stood there so long. He was frustrated and he walked away. And I asked my mother what was going on. She said he had worked all week and he was waiting for the man to come and pay him, and he never did. They needed the money at the time.

“And I’ll tell you she was so frustrated she turned to me and she said, ‘Don’t you ever stand by a door waiting for white folks to do nothing for you.’ My mother wasn’t a racist. But in her quilt, she couldn’t imagine a world where her son was not waiting by the door for someone.

“In her quilt, she couldn’t imagine me actually building my own door and holding that door open for thousands of people. In my mother’s quilt, she couldn’t imagine me owning land that was once a Confederate army base, where Confederate soldiers plotted and planned on how to keep Blacks enslaved.

“And now, on that very land, Black people, white people, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, ex-cons, Latin, Asian, all of us come together, working. All coming together to add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be, diversity at its best. I stand here tonight to say thank you to all of the people who are celebrating and know the value of every patch and every story and every color that makes up this quilt that is our business, this quilt that is our lives. This quilt that is America. Because in my grandmother’s quilt, there were no patches that represented Black people on television.

“But in my quilt, her grandson is being celebrated by the Television Academy. I thank you for this. God bless you.”

No Kid Hungry
Another Emmy highlight for Scherma was raising funds for No Kid Hungry, a group working to relieve child hunger brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each network and streaming service competing on the primetime Emmy telecast pledged a donation of $100,000 to No Kid Hungry for every Emmy won. 

With 23 Emmys handed out that evening and the Television Academy committing an additional $500,000, that translated into a total donation of $2.8 million to No Kid Hungry. 

Conveying the value of television--particularly during the pandemic--and taking tangible action to help others in the form of the fundraising initiative for No Kid Hungry were essential to this year’s Emmys, contended Scherma who observed that “giving out awards to ourselves, with everything going on in the world” doesn’t qualify as important. ABC, the Television Academy and Emmy producers, he continued, needed to convey a respect for, an acknowledgment of and a concern for what the world is going through this year.


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