Opinion | The Emmys don’t work virtually

By Rachel Soloff, For The Pitt News

Without the glamorous red carpets and the packed theaters full of familiar celebrities, the Emmys have had to change its format to fit a world amidst COVID-19.

While award shows have tried to adapt during a global pandemic, some shows have done better than others in circumventing awkward silences and general weirdness around having a virtual award show. Despite the Television Academy’s best efforts, the Emmys just did not work because of the clunkiness of the format in a virtual setting.

Sunday’s Emmy Awards had some memorable and historic moments, such as the historic sweep by “Schitt’s Creek” and Zendaya being the youngest person to win a drama award, but much of the show’s potential was wasted. The ceremony could have used technology to its advantage and been more experimental with the format. This year had the lowest ratings the show has ever seen, which shows a disinterested viewing public.

The Television Academy prepared by sending out laptops, ring lights and high quality cameras to all of the nominees to hopefully ensure that no one would have technical difficulties. This, for the most part, worked. All of the nominees and winners were able to be seen and give speeches without any technological hitches. Award winners were also able to be with their families and young children to accept the awards, which would not be possible during a regular Emmy Awards ceremony.

Jimmy Kimmel hosted this year’s awards in front of large screens full of the nominees. Some celebrities even presented awards as well. Kimmel and the presenters made constant jokes about the pandemic that got old after about 10 minutes. We all know that there is a pandemic, and we are here to take our minds off of it. The constant jokes about the pandemic not only fell flat but were repetitive and irritating. For instance, Jimmy Kimmel and Jennifer Aniston tried to “disinfect” the envelopes with the winners’ names on them by setting them on fire. Award shows are supposed to be a way to celebrate success of great artists who take our minds off of the horrible things going on in the world. Making constant jokes about how bad everything is in the world takes away from how special the day is for the nominees.

The COVID-19 jokes continued throughout the whole show, with people delivering the awards in hazmat suits or in pop-up boxes that didn’t work. This made the show drag on for way too long — running for almost three hours and took away from the main focus of the awards. While it’s understandable the awards were trying to be topical, it felt like too much and too often that the host and presenters were leaning on lazy jokes they thought were relatable. One way the awards successfully incorporated topical issues was by having essential workers from all over the country announce the winners. It was a subtle way to bring in the topic and appreciate all the hard work of the essential workers without it feeling forced like the jokes.

Another issue with the Emmys this year was the runtime. The awards were three hours long and had way too much fluff. Even in a typical year, the runtime feels too long, but this year — especially because the show was virtual — it made it seem even longer. Because there was no extra time used for award winners to get to the stage and other things that add time during a regular awards show, the show could have been cut much shorter. Without that, the extra time was made for bits that went on for way too long. If the show was cut even one hour shorter, it would have made it more time-efficient and entertaining.

The Emmy Awards also lacked a red carpet as well as a dress code. Some celebrities were wearing gowns and suits while others were wearing pajamas. For obvious reasons, there couldn’t be a red carpet, but by not providing a dress code, the show lacked its usual cohesiveness. Red carpets are not crucial to the awards but are for the entertainment of the viewers. They allow viewers to see fashion and hear interviews from their favorite celebrities and make the event special.

Some shows like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Watchmen” had their whole cast in a socially distant tent and one of the cast members’ homes, respectively, for a gathering to celebrate, have their own mini red carpets and accept awards together. This gave viewers some semblance of the usual awards. However, not all shows this year could gather their cast because they live in different parts of the world or it’s not safe to be together. This made the show feel less connected because the casts couldn’t celebrate together, and it felt strange that winners were making speeches from their homes.

Producing an awards show during a pandemic is hard work. All the nominees are scattered across the world, there can’t be big red carpets or after-parties and technology can be unreliable. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should adapt. This year, because it’s so strange, the Television Academy should have run the show in a more imaginative way. Technology could’ve been on the show’s side and made the Emmys bigger and better than they have been.

Rachel Soloff writes primarily about the entertainment industry and social justice. Write to her at [email protected]