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Notes On The Season: Oscars Nix Screenings; Emmy Controversy? - Part II

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Troublesome indeed. The last time this issue came to a boil, with a real serious attempt to actually take away two each of the contractually-guaranteed writer and director primetime Emmy presentations was in 2009. I happened to be a member of the TV Academy Board of Governors then representing the writers branch. It was very similar reasoning at the time. Emmy ratings were going down and the Academy was concerned.

A key proposal for that year’s show was to move Variety and Limited Series (then known as Miniseries) writer/director awards to the Creative Arts ceremony. This did not go down well with my branch as you might imagine.

At one board meeting my co-Governor Margaret Nagle and I made an impassioned plea to save our spot on the show, and though some were sympathetic, we lost the vote. Someone leaked this to a trade — not us — and the battle became a particularly brutal one. We became the enemy in the boardroom for a while.

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Fortunately we had the WGA behind us, plus that contract which I waved around during our argument, but it took covert coordination with the WGA in particular, a full page ad of support in the trades signed by more than 100 showrunners, and an information campaign launched at the TV Critics’ press tour all about that year’s Emmy show plans. We had details of the attempt by the Academy against writers and directors placed under every out of town critic’s hotel room door so the questions would be sure to come up during the panel, and they did.

Ultimately it was that year’s producer, ironically Mischer, who helped put the kibosh on the whole plan by pointing out he didn’t want a lot of miserable nominees in the audience since it was their show. Victory was ours. And though I am no longer on the Board, I have not heard of any attempt by the Networks or the Academy to seriously reduce writing and directing awards on the telecast in the decade since.

There actually was an idea floated to spin off the Limited Series/TV Movie awards in their entirety, maybe even sell it as a separate Emmy show to HBO, but it went nowhere.
Even the actors branch had a close call when the Academy attempted to take Supporting Actor/Actress off the telecast. But after loud complaints from the actors’ branch that plan was wisely deep-sixed before it was ever tried.

Even with the daunting logistics of doing a virtual Emmy show with live feeds from the homes of all the nominees (an excuse I hear may be made), I can’t imagine producer/host Jimmy Kimmel and his team can’t find some way to stay true to the agreement made with the WGA and the DGA on behalf of their nominated members.

By the way the other two categories being relegated to Creative Arts this year are TV Movie and Variety Sketch Series. Variety Talk Series however stays on the primetime telecast. Among the nominees: Jimmy Kimmel Live. 

Finally, ever since I reported last week about a letter sent to all the Emmy nominees — at least to those still in the ABC telecast — with details on how to act and dress in this stay-at-home pandemic Emmys, I have been asking around about what select nominees think about this weird turn of events for their big night. Here are some of the responses I got during my zoom conversations.

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Hugh Jackman, nominee for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie, Bad Education: 

“We have to keep safe, but at least from the waist up I will be dressed. I promise you that. Unlike the actual Emmys I might have a slight bar just behind the camera there. I am not gonna tell you who but I remember hosting the Oscars and I looked down and a certain movie star, who is still a movie star, during the commercial break took out a little hip flask and I thought, ‘yes, that’s how you do it’, but at least in this situation you don’t have to have it stuffed in your pocket.”

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Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, nominees for Lead Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series, Schitt’s Creek:

LEVY: “I think with Jimmy Kimmel involved, and with ABC, I think for a virtual production it is probably going to be as highly produced as you can get for virtual you know. I don’t know whether they are going to have people hooked up in a live sense in terms of nominees. I am not sure about that but that’s what I have kind of heard. It is going to be strange because you are going to be celebrating with whoever you are going to be celebrating with at home, everybody in their own little pod and making believe we are all together in some giant theatre.”

O’HARA: “As far as the audience goes it is the same. It is on a screen. It’s the same experience for the viewing audience that they hope to get for this but really the big difference is for those of us who are invited to the Emmys. We aren’t getting dressed up, we don’t have to go anywhere, and we don’t have a party so it’s really the people who are involved that will be different. For the audience it’s the same experience.”

LEVY: “My son [Daniel Levy, nominated for four Emmys for Schitt’s Creek] has been tossing around the idea that we are doing an Emmy party at the house in Toronto. He’s been going around saying ‘I think we are going to be getting a tent in the yard and having some people over, socially distanced for an Emmy party.’ He hasn’t talked to me about it yet, but it doesn’t sound like a half bad idea to be honest.”

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Rachel Brosnahan, nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

“I’m thrilled, thrilled maybe to be able to wear pajamas on the bottom. It will be sad not to be in the same space with so many of the nominees, and having had that experience a couple of times, just to see the energy and be with other performers and designers and people you admire. It will be missing that element which is sad but it will be more comfortable than any awards show that has ever happened. And now my dog can come to the Emmys for the first time ever.”

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Holland Taylor, nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Hollywood
“Are we going to have everybody at home with a laptop and computer ready to turn it on, and then they say, ‘Oh no you don’t have to turn yours on?’ Oh my god. I can’t believe it, but we will all trudge forward. Actually the nomination really is the honor. It’s extraordinary to be selected and what it really means is most of us of are playing really wonderful roles.“

Amen to that, Holland. and good luck to all of you — virtually, of course.

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Notes On The Season: Oscars Nix Screenings; Emmy Controversy? - Part II00