When Jimmy Kimmel signed on to host and executive produce the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, he never imagined having to put the show together during a global pandemic. But after coming to peace with what has become our new normal these past few months, Kimmel and his fellow executive producers Ian Stewart and Reginald Hudlin made the decision to—rather than try and recreate the normal Emmys pageantry—throw away the playbook and create an entirely new experience for the nominees and viewers. “We said, ‘Okay, let’s think about how things are normally done and let’s challenge those things,” Hudlin told reporters Wednesday during a remote press conference. The end result will be a technical undertaking unlike anything attempted during a pandemic-era awards show so far: more than 130 live feeds streaming from around the globe, only an extremely small amount of pre-recorded content, and an alpaca running around the studio. “Whenever possible, we’re going live and watching the wheels fall off, and hoping there are enough wheels to keep the thing running,” said Stewart. “This is a new start, in a way.”
Here’s what they are at least planning for Sunday’s telecast.
The producers want the show to feel raw and won’t mask the necessary precautions in place to protect those involved from COVID-19. That means Kimmel will be without a crowd to react to his opening monologue, and they aren’t using a laugh or applause track like other shows have tried recently. There will, however, be a small group of celebrities—about a dozen, producers say—who will rotate into the studio to share the screen with Kimmel during parts of the telecast. Viewers can also look forward to an alpaca named Isabelle, for some reason. They wouldn’t tell us why just yet.
The unpredictable nature of the remote telecast means we’ll be getting more Kimmel than we would during a traditional awards show. “Often, if you break it down, [hosts] do the opening monologue, they say goodnight, and maybe three or four bits in between,” Stewart explained. “They have their pieces, and then in the meantime the producers and directors make the show. Then occasionally they’re wheeled out again to say something else that’s funny to an audience who laughs. But because we have that sort of chaos that can happen at any time [with feeds going down or someone not being on camera when they should be] it’s a completely different way for Jimmy to come at this because he, in effect, has to be live—or ready to be live—for three hours. Hopefully three hours and not longer.”
Producers have sent out approximately 130 kits of ring lights, laptops, boom mics, a high resolution cameras out to about 125 locations in 20 cities across 10 countries. Each of these kits will be feeding footage live to the producers, who have set up camp at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “If there’s 135 feeds coming in it’s kind of like watching 140 sports matches all at one time. You have so many things coming in and things maybe not coming in. It’s a logistical nightmare,” said Hudlin. “Staples was the only facility that could handle all those signals coming in and out.
And because celebrities really are just like us, the producers are aware of how much troubleshooting potential tech issue may be necessary in the days leading up to the telecast and during the live show. “There’s a whole back end to this that no one will see,” said Hudlin. “There’s a whole team of producers who are are talking one-on-one to all 130 individual feeds and they’re there troubleshooting.” Still, they know there’s a high likelihood that someone will cut out mid-acceptance speech. “It’s not going to work properly all the time,” said Stewart. “It’s just not. And we just have to embrace it.”
The team had initially contemplated producing an hour-long pre-show in place of the traditional red carpet, but ultimately nixed the idea when they realized taking on a fourth hour of programming was probably not a good idea when planning an event like this for the first time. Instead, they hope to shake things up and spend time chatting with nominees throughout the telecast. “We’ll be able to communicate with each person. And, look, if someone happens to have an extraordinary outfit, maybe we’ll have a conversation with them,” said Hudlin. “If someone’s kid takes control of the mic and suddenly they’re the star of the show, we’re going to let that happen. We’re very open to the X factor.”
On Wednesday’s call, the producers acknowledged how stressful a traditional awards season can be for celebrities who have to plan for dozens of red carpet events. “It’s a high-end problem, but it’s a lot,” said Hudlin. “So the idea that they can be at home—whether they’re in the freakiest, funkiest outfit they can find in their closet that they wouldn’t have the courage to bring to [the ceremony,] or they’re wearing that Lululemon or Adidas track suit, or they’ve got some cool pajamas, I think that part is great.” Added Stewart: “We know people have had their own Emmys pajamas made.”
A few casts have found a way to safely get together as a group on Sunday, while some nominees are planning small dinner parties with friends, and others will be alone on their couch. In any case, Hudlin is excited to give audiences a peek into the home lives of some of the nominees and presenters. “That I think is going to be great for the nominees, and also great for the viewers, because every week these stars get to come into our house, and [now] we can go into their home.”
And while no one will have to make their way from the back of an arena to give their acceptance speech, the producers aren’t confident that the show will run short. “It’s really tough to know, because we’re going to be doing so many things we’ve never done before. If you’ve won an award and you’ve got hug your spouse and your kids and your mom and the dog and the cat and the parakeet, is that going to take longer than it would walking up to the podium? We don’t know. We’ll find out,” said Stewart. Added Hudlin: “They don’t have to thank their kid who’s watching, they can have their kid next to them to the couch.”
Aside from the nomination announcements, which will likely have pre-taped elements, the producers are excited for everything to play out live. And they hope to diversify the way the winners are announced and awarded. “We’re going to essentially be making things up as we go along. I know that’s not a reassuring answer, but it’s kind of the truth,” said Hudlin. “We want to have these natural moments play out,” added Stewart. “One of the [ABC] execs said, ‘We don’t care what you do, but for goodness sake make it entertaining.’”