In the time of coronavirus, even the 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, not taking place until Sept. 20, are going to look noticeably different. From For Your Consideration events being banned to shifting calendar deadlines, the Television Academy has instituted notable changes based on public health and safety recommendations amid a deadly pandemic. But, the show will go on, and even before the world changed there were a number of new elements to the voting rules and regulations, not to mention an extremely high volume of content to binge, to keep voting members on their toes.
To help with that, Variety is breaking down what one needs to know about the state of the awards season and some key races so far.
With New York and Los Angeles under “safer at home” advisories, FYC events cannot take place for the time being. These events have been a staple of the Emmy awards circuit, in great part due to the accessibility of talent and the party atmosphere at many activations and post-screening/Q&A receptions. Now, those campaigning have to get a bit more creative — but considerate, given the sensitivity of the times — with how they put their projects and talent in front of the large voting populace. Whether that mostly materializes as additional ads on billboards, in magazines and on websites, or more talent pivots to live social media or other online video chats remains to be seen as each studio settles into this new — but hopefully temporary — normal. But for some, it also means sitting out this year’s race completely: As productions have been shut down and even much post work is too extensive and expensive to be done remotely, some big title players won’t finish in time to make the eligibility cutoff. FX pulled “Fargo” from its original April premiere date and HBO announced “The Undoing” would be moving to fall, while Nat Geo could not finish its new “Genius” installment starring Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in time to make its original Memorial Day premiere date.
Legendary Limited Series
Three possible powerhouse limited series (“Fargo,” “The Undoing” and “Genius: Aretha”) may have been taken out of the running this year, but the category is still the most stacked in this year’s awards race. HBO’s “Watchmen,” which interestingly submitted as a drama during the winter awards race but will compete in the limited series category now, and Netflix’s “Unbelievable” are up for their chance at Emmy gold after first having a go at the winter awards races. Adding to the list are more recently-launched series including Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” adaptation; FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” starring Cate Blanchett; HBO’s “I Know This Much Is True” with Mark Ruffalo playing twins; Apple TV Plus’ “Defending Jacob,” toplined by Chris Evans; and Netflix’s “Hollywood” from Ryan Murphy and “The Eddy” from Alan Poul. It’s bound to be both an embarrassment of riches and also an overwhelming feat for Academy voters to have to get acquainted with all of these in a short amount of time.
Although the eligibility window mostly remains the same (June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020), there has been a slight adjustment for “hanging episodes.” This year, episodes from ongoing series as well as limited ones must air or stream by June 30 to be considered. The greater shifts occur for campaigns and voting in both Phase 1 and Phase 2: The entry deadline to submit eligible programming and performers is now June 5; Nominations-round voting begins July 2, lasting through July 13; nominations will be announced July 28. Post-nominations, aka final-round voting, will begin Aug. 21, lasting through Aug. 31. Both voting windows are shorter by only a few days, but by shifting them to later dates, voters will have more time to assess the content, and campaigners have more time to get promotional materials out.
Entering into the Digital Age
If stacks of DVDs literally staring voters in the face and taking up room on their coffee tables or in boxes in the garage are what helps them remember to check out a show, they’re going to have to set some iPhone alarms or something instead. For the first time, the Television Academy has done away with physical screeners for its members. This is one new rule that was long in the works before coronavirus, but serendipitously it happens to fall in line with new safety precautions. Now, shows have to be submitted digitally either on the Academy’s special FYC platform or a studio or network’s own. Submitting digitally still comes at a cost to the participating studios and networks, with fees ranging per category, but it should also help the Television Academy better track that everyone is playing by their other rules when it comes to what program is being submitted in what category, as well as the number of episodes studios and networks are submitting. This also allows “hanging episodes” (episodes from the eligible season that air or stream after the end of the eligibility window) to be considered for the year’s awards if they are posted on one of these new FYC platforms by June 30.
The Question Mark of Quibi
With the launch of this streamer on April 6 came a whole slew of scripted and unscripted content that delivered its storytelling in short form (under 10 minutes). Some titles, such as the Liam Hemsworth starrer “The Most Dangerous Game,” as well as “Flipped,” starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, are being called “movies in chapters,” but others are being released in “quick bites,” as the company name suggests. As of press time, Quibi had not shared its Emmy submission plans, which leaves uncertainty around which high-profile talent-led titles it will push, as well as if it can dominate in the short-form categories. Given the new rule in that space that any independent or “self-published” programming now has to be “vetted” by committee members before being placed on the ballot, and Quibi’s high volume of content, it could dominate.
Bye Bye, Big Bird
The Television Academy and the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences (NATAS) have teamed up and agreed that if a program airs primarily in the daytime and therefore submits for Daytime Emmy Awards, its primetime special will not be eligible at the Primetime Emmy Awards. While at first glance it may not appear that there is much crossover, one series that will be greatly affected is “Sesame Street,” which historically has won 179 Daytime Emmys and six Primetime Emmys.
Don’t adjust your Emmy ballots, it will not be a mistake to see the same faces repeated a number of times throughout the various categories! On the nomination-round performer ballots alone, there are some key players who will be eligible in more than one category — and for some, multiple times in the same category. Reese Witherspoon, for example, is eligible for “Big Little Lies” as well as “The Morning Show” in drama, and then “Little Fires Everywhere” in limited series. “Little Fires Everywhere’s” Kerry Washington will see her name twice on the lead limited series/TV movie actress nomination ballot after also starring in “American Son,” and she is also in the running in supporting for the special “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.” Octavia Spencer is eligible for lead limited series/TV movie actress and lead drama actress, respectively, with “Self Made” and “Truth Be Told.” And speaking of “Truth Be Told,” supporting actor Aaron Paul is eligible for that series, as well as in lead categories for “El Camino” and “Westworld.” Last year’s guest drama actor Emmy winner Bradley Whitford is eligible again for “The Handmaid’s Tale” (now in a larger role), as well as in lead comedy actor for “Perfect Harmony”; Merritt Wever will be competing in comedy for “Run” and limited series for “Unbelievable”; Cecily Tyson can be considered for both “Cherish The Day” and “How to Get Away With Murder”; Bowen Yang is eligible twice in comedy for “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” and “Saturday Night Live.” And then there is Giancarlo Esposito, who should be considered the MVP of TV acting this year, having appeared in half a dozen series in supporting and guest roles, from “Better Call Saul” to “Godfather of Harlem” to “The Mandalorian” and “Dear White People.” And these are just a few!