Updated: Jan 28
“What could go right?” joked Jimmy Kimmel at the start of the first virtual Emmys. A lot, it turned out. From an almost-empty arena, the 72nd awards proved the pandemic was no match for ingenuity — and the need for humans to connect.
BY LIANE STARR
"If nothing beyond the massive changes demanded by the global pandemic made this year's Emmy awards one for the history books, that would have been quite enough.
A daunting 138 celebrities in 114 locations around the world, as well as one alpaca (yes, a live animal on live TV), appeared on television's biggest night — despite 2020 being a year seemingly determined to throw curveballs. "We have 140 different feeds going all at once," host Jimmy Kimmel announced during his monologue, delivered live from L.A.'s Staples Center on Sunday, September 20. "What could go right?"
Despite the dark humor, the answer was: quite a lot.
While a few special guests — including Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson and Jason Bateman — joined Kimmel in the mostly empty arena, almost all nominees and presenters joined the broadcast from home or a local hotel.
There, they had to light and film themselves (each was sent movie-quality cameras along with cables, a ring light, a laptop and a stand), while awaiting the hazmat- suited couriers who visited nominees to hand out awards as they were announced (leaving some, unfortunately, disappointed and empty-handed).
Still, none of the problems that affect seemingly every pandemic-era Zoom call derailed the Emmys — not that that would have been a problem anyway.
"We are open to the X-factor of being in partnership with all of these nominees, and we are ready for whatever might happen," executive producer Reginald Hudlin said in a pre-show press conference with fellow exec producer Ian Stewart.
Unexpected at-home moments were mostly adorable ones involving cute pets and children bouncing on the furniture. Even when a real trash fire resisted being put out during a sketch by Kimmel and Jennifer Aniston (Lead Actress in a Drama Series nominee for The Morning Show), the mishap provided fodder for a viral meme.
Once the show got to the business of handing out awards, moments worthy of the record books started rolling in. Though it entered this year's competition with no Emmy wins, Pop TV's Schitt's Creek changed that status dramatically for its sixth and final season, setting a record for the most wins for a single season of a comedy series.
The show's nine victories — including two in Creative Arts categories — broke the record held by Amazon Prime's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which won eight in both 2018 and 2019), and Schitt's Creek became the first comedy to win all four acting categories in a single year.
Gathered — while socially distanced — in an event space in Toronto (the show originated on Canada's CBC), the cast became increasingly stunned as the awards piled up.
Still, Catherine O'Hara, winner of Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, set the evening's mostly subdued tone in her acceptance. "May I please wish you all a sound mind and a sound body," she said to the worldwide audience. "And though these are the strangest of days," she added, before alluding to her oddball screen clan, "may you have as much joy being holed up in a room or two with your family as I had with my dear Roses."
In accepting the Outstanding Comedy Series award, Daniel Levy also remained low-key as he implored viewers to vote on November 3 (many winners added similar pleas to their remarks as the evening wore on). "For any of you who have not registered to vote, please do so," he said, "and then go out and vote because that is the only way that we are going to have some love and acceptance out there."
While Schitt's Creek took center stage during the first hour of the broadcast, it wasn't the only record-breaker. Twenty-four-year-old Zendaya became the youngest winner of the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, for her role in HBO's Euphoria. While the fashion icon didn't get to walk the red carpet, she donned two glamorous outfits during the show and seemed to find a silver lining in accepting the award from home, where she was surrounded by loved ones.
"I'm just grateful for moments like this," she said later, in the virtual media center, "moments where we can have joy and we can wrap our arms around our loved ones and tell each other we love each other and we're proud of each other."
Zendaya also became the second Black woman to win in the category (the first being Viola Davis for How to Get Away with Murder in 2015). Another record was set this year when the highest number of nominations (35) and wins (seven) went to Black actors. (And yet another record: RuPaul's Drag Race was named Outstanding Competition Program, bringing its overall wins to 19, the most earned by this type of program.)
Race was a prevalent topic, whether it was addressed overtly or indirectly. Damon Lindelof, an executive producer of HBO's Watchmen, dedicated the show's win for Outstanding Limited Series "to the victims and survivors of the Tulsa massacre of 1921. The fires that destroyed Black Wall Street still burn today. The only way to put the fires out is if we all fight them together."
For Regina King, who won Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in Watchmen (which received 11 Emmys, including one for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Outstanding Supporting Actor), the broadcast was an opportunity to let her T-shirt — featuring slain Black woman Breonna Taylor — do the talking (and get viewers thinking) about racial equality.
Though she didn't mention the shirt in her acceptance speech — instead urging viewers to vote and visit the website Ballotpedia — she later elaborated on her fashion statement in the media center.
"The cops still haven't been held accountable. She represents decades, hundreds of years of violence against Black bodies, Breonna Taylor does," she said, adding that the churn of current events was "holding a mirror up to" Watchmen. "When you have the platform to remind those who tend to look past Black girls, Black women… you seize it."
Others who seized that platform were Uzo Aduba and Sterling K. Brown. Aduba, the winner of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in FX's Mrs. America, wore a black tee that featured Taylor's name, while Brown, a presenter, donned a Black Lives Matter shirt.
Aduba wrapped her acceptance speech with a rousing, "Let's go change the world!" She then could be heard charmingly calling "Mommy!" before the shot ended.
In accepting the Governors Award, actor-writer-producer-director Tyler Perry tackled the issue of inclusion, describing those working at his Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta as a mix of "Black people, white people, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, ex-cons, Latin, Asian… diversity at its best." ..."
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