The Dos and Don’ts of Hosting a Pandemic Awards Show

Frazier Tharpe, Kevin Hall
·6 mins read
<h1 class="title">Walt Disney Television's Coverage of The 72nd Annual Emmy Awards</h1><cite class="credit">ABC</cite>

Walt Disney Television's Coverage of The 72nd Annual Emmy Awards

ABC

The Emmys aired its 72nd edition last night as a mostly remote affair, with no red carpet, no audience and nominees all logged in to a group Zoom chat while host Jimmy Kimmel directed the proceedings. That makes this the third award show, following BET in June and the VMAs in August, to put on a broadcast during the pandemic. We now have enough evidence to fully examine the COVID-award era and diagnose what’s working and what isn’t, because this is a scenario we likely haven’t seen the last of. Let’s salute the innovative highs and pinpoint the kinks that still need to be worked out.

DO: Embrace the weirdness.

Everyone knew this was going to be a bizarre night, and yet the Emmys tried to make it seem normal by cutting Kimmel’s flat gags with stock audience footage from past Emmys during the opening monologue. Why not lean into the peculiarity and chaos of an awards show with nobody present? Kimmel and Jennifer Aniston lighting an envelope on fire was a step in the right direction, but why did we only learn about the Hazmat-suited assistants who delivered awards to the winners homes by the grace of Ramy Youssef’s Twitter? Forget branded content Kia skits, put these heroes on the broadcast proper! Or take it a step further and put Amy Adams in a hazmat for a sight gag. The VMAs saw artists like Dababy go all in with innovative, green-screen reliant performances, while for the BET Awards, Meg Thee Stallion and Roddy Ricch opted for isolated sets where they could run free and wild. The Emmys, by contrast, mostly featured Jimmy Kimmel...standing in a room.

DON’T: Have in-person presenters.

Why are you in a room with Jimmy, Jennifer Aniston? You’re going to get him sick! Go back to your mansion! You have WiFi there!

DON’T: Keep joking about COVID

You can also lean in too much. The Emmys had to address the pandemic, but the constant onslaught felt tired—every other bit seemed to be COVID-related. We know about COVID. We’ve been living with it for months. We don’t want to be reminded of it ad nauseam by the people whose livelihoods have been affected by it the least. A gag about the ridiculous test turnaround time for people who probably have rapid kits that move faster than a thermometer? Ew.

DO: Have nominees bring their whole families onto the Zoom.

We love a good family pic, don’t we? Many people watching may have gone months without seeing their families because of the pandemic. To see celebrities spend time with their families isn’t only relatable, it’s comforting, a reminder that, despite these troubling times, we have people who love and support us no matter what. And in the case of an awards show, it either makes a cute win even cuter—see: Zendaya—or it makes a snub even more painful. See: Nicholas Braun muttering to his family with his mic off while staring intently into the camera after losing out to Billy Crudup of The Morning Show for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. Which leads to…

DO: Accept the loss gracefully.

Under normal circumstances, the losers only have roving cameramen to fear for a few seconds before all attention is diverted to the winner. On the group Zoom, your face stays there, so you’d better figure out something to do with it. Ramy Youssef was one of the many nominees who lost out to someone on Schitt’s Creek. Yet he posted a video to Twitter of someone in a Hazmat suit outside his home, leaving with an Emmy that he didn’t win. You have to give props to anyone who can laugh at themselves in the face of defeat like this. Conversely, you could read Issa Rae’s loss in the Best Actress in a Comedy Category—to Schitt’s Creek, of course—all over her face, a reaction made even more pronounced by her standing in what appeared to be an empty stadium alone. (Later her IG post made it clear it was a cast party, but in the moment, there was zero context.)

DON’T: Stack the awards categories together.

Look, however you feel about Schitt’s Creek, it had to be weird that they won so many things in a row—seven in total. Even the show’s cast and crew seemed to be exhausted by it! A normal run-of-show likely would’ve started with a few comedy awards,, with the big categories like Best Series back-burnered for the tail end. Perhaps the Emmys were programmed this way for the benefit of all the stars Zooming in from cast parties at their plush mansions and hotels? (The Levy family definitely hit ‘Leave Meeting’ after 9pm.) That’s nice, but it makes a sweep (well-deserved or not) seem instantly annoying.

DO: Take advantage of the casual dress code.

If this was a typical theater red carpet affair, it’s doubtful that you’d see Sterling K. Brown sporting a BLM tee under his blazer or Uzo Aduba accepting her award in a t-shirt plainly reading Breonna Taylor’s name. Stars getting political in their acceptance or presenting speeches is nothing new, but it felt like the more relaxed format, plus the charged political nature of election season, made for some more pronounced messaging.

DO: Lean on legendary hosts, preferably bearded.

One upside to this remote situation: it has to be easier to get a reclusive celeb to turn on their webcam versus actually getting them dressed up and in the building. David Letterman looks like he’s lived in a remote cabin in the woods for years, but he showed up fully suited to take some of the pressure off Kimmel for a bit and inject some zany energy into the evening. Letterman has years of experience dealing with unruly guests and unusual situations, and it showed with an extended Uber bit (which morphed into a hitchhiking bit), that patented Letterman dry humor in regards to the remote circumstances, a great throwback gag to the ‘86 Emmy awards and a brief but touching tribute to Regis Philbin. Was he unavailable to host the entire show?

DON’T: Do any goofy skits.

Heavily conceptual presenter gags or cutaway skits whose only purpose is to make a long show even longer rarely worked B.C.—Before Covid. Now, they fall even flatter. The mailman bit was only watchable thanks to the charm offensive of the great Anthony Carrigan, but watching Kimmel try to bounce tired collusion jokes off of him with no audience to cutaway to for a pity laugh was painful.

DO: Highlight the essential workers.

The VMAs had a very good segment highlighting the people on the frontlines battling this pandemic, and the Emmys found a great way to thread their presence into the entirety of the broadcast by giving each specific sector a moment to represent and then throw to an award. As long as we’re in this situation, we should make time to salute those fighting it every time possible, especially in scenarios built to congratulate the rich and famous people who are very insulated from it.

Originally Appeared on GQ