Notes On The Season: Oscars Nix Screenings; Emmy Controversy?; Drive In Campaigning; Nominees Stay Home

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

Emmy season remains in full swing with the so-called phase two running on all cylinders now that nominations are out’ and so too will ballots be ready for online voting beginning in two weeks on August 21 and running through the end of the month. But we begin today with news about Oscar season and word that, for the first time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is shutting down and will not be holding any in person events through the end of the year – at the very least. Notably this means there will be no in-theatre member screenings in Los Angeles, New York, the Bay Area, or London this Fall, further complicating the already cloudy picture of just what the season will look like after the Fall Festival circuit has already gone through massive change and upheaval, including the out and out cancellation of Telluride’s Labor Day weekend must-stop event. This all means Academy members will likely be watching films through the Academy Screening Room digital service, or on DVDs which will still be available to AMPAS voters for just one more season before being ditched in favor of permanent downloading. Of course in the Academy hubs of LA and NY especially it is questionable when even commercial theatres will be up and running again, and the Academy’s closure of their own theatres just reinforces the problem the industry is facing as contenders jockey to be seen in the best possible light. AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson shared the news through an email to members earlier today:

“As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, your health and safety, and that of the Academy staff, remains our primary concern. For this reason, we’ve decided it’s in everyone’s best interest for Academy staff to continue working remotely through the end of the year.

“As a result, we will not be hosting in-person live events, including in-theater member screenings in Los Angeles, New York, the Bay Area, or London this fall. I understand what a loss—however temporary—this is. I dream of seeing a movie in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater soon. And we will! But it’s essential to act with an abundance of caution and care during this time.

“As always, please stay safe. I send my warmest wishes to you and your loved ones for good health.

“Through the Academy Screening Room you will still have the opportunity to view films in contention for the 93rd Oscars from the comfort and safety of your home. You can access the Academy Screening Room through our Apple TV 4 app and through the online member portal. And we will continue to provide stimulating virtual programming and events throughout the fall and beyond. There is so much planned, and we look forward to bringing it all to you. The Academy will always be a place to gather and celebrate the art of motion pictures, even if virtually for now.

“As always, please stay safe. I send my warmest wishes to you and your loved ones for good health.”


Now back to Emmy season. Fortunately the Television Academy doesn’t have to deal with problems surrounding getting contenders seen on the big screen. The nominees were designed of course knowing they would be seen on smaller screens, so even though they’ve held FYC events in their lavish Wolf Theatre and had to cancel all of them, much like their Motion Picture Academy counterparts are doing, the experience of seeing a TV show on TV is of course no big deal. Nevertheless Oscar campaigners and perhaps the Academy itself might want to take a clue from Disney which will be hosting (with the help of Deadline) a Disney Drive In Series – From Your Car. That’s right. The Mouse House has taken over the Rose Bowl for nightly screenings, dinners, and virtual panels of contenders from brands like Disney +, Hulu, ABC, FX, NatGeo, and Disney Television Studios. It kicks off Tuesday with ABC’s Black’ish and will be followed by Star Wars: The Maladorian, What We Do In The Shadows, Little Fires Everywhere, The World According To Jeff Goldblum, and Live In Front Of A Studio Audience. TV Academy members are being invited for the rarest of rare Emmy events this season, an actual night out, albeit in your car in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl was recently used by the Tribeca Film Festival to stage their own series of film presentations, so it seems to work nicely as a popup Drive In, and you can just imagine if things continue as they are Oscar hopefuls may also find a way to engage in this outdoor big screen experience too, especially with their own screens out of the picture as it were.

Meanwhile, that kind of clever Emmy campaign idea is just one clever example we are seeing in the final weeks of the season. At least one hopeful for Documentary or Non-Fiction series is taking a cue from its own subject and echoing her presidential campaign by sending out red, white and blue bumper stickers this week saying : “HILLARY for Outstanding Documentary Series” I’m with her. Nice to see Mrs. Clinton is back in the race, if not for the White House this time. What would Emmy loser Donald Trump have to say if his nemesis actually wins?


On Thursday I reported on the Television Academy’s news that the Emmy presentations next month would be stretched out to 6, count ’em, nights culminating with ABC’s primetime broadcast on Sunday September 20. In the piece I mentioned (though the Academy’s release curiously didn’t) that four categories had been eliminated from the now virtual Emmy show, reducing the number of awards given out on national broadcast TV that night to 23. Two of them were Variety writing and directing awards. The writers and directors have had a longtime agreement through their respective guilds, the WGA and DGA to waive the otherwise considerable fees for use of clips on the Emmy show in return for an iron clad guarantee that each would have four awards – comedy, drama, Limited Series, Variety – presented on the broadcast. It is contractual and spelled out in a joint legal agreement with the Academy. The Academy had no comment for me when I reached out to ask about what might seem like not such a momentous thing to the layman, but to those closely involved has been a long standing and hard fought big deal. My colleague Nellie Andreeva further revealed late yesterday that when she inquired both WGA and DGA reps said – on the record – that it was news to them and they have had no talks with the Academy about giving up one of their televised awards (instead to be shuffled off to one of the five Creative Arts ceremonies). As Andreeva points out the attempt to reduce writer and director categories is not a new one and has come up more than once, with networks favoring more face time for recognizable stars due to dwindling ratings for the show. Andreeva even got a quote from frequent Emmy show producer and guild member Don Mischer in this regard.

“It’s tough producing the telecasts because you are serving two masters — you are trying to help the network get high ratings and trying hard to have people on the show who are recognizable to viewers across the country,” Mischer said. “But as a director, I can say unequivocally that directors are incredibly important to television as an audio-video medium, and the attempt to cut them out is incredibly troublesome.”

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 about doing something. 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.

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 just before a panel took place 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 had 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, although 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.

HUGH JACKMAN: Nominee 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.”

EUGENE LEVY and CATHERINE O’HARA, Nominees 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.”

OHARA: “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.”

RACHEL BROSNAHAN, Nominee 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.”

HOLLAND TAYLOR, Nominee 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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