Can the Emmys Buck This Year’s Trend of Terrible Awards Shows?

TheWrap Emmy magazine: Even before the coronavirus and the George Floyd protests, this year’s awards shows dealt with widespread criticism and record low ratings

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Illustration by Jane Go

steve pond A version of this story about 2020’s awards first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine. The Television Academy has delayed its voting schedule, delayed its nominations announcement and turned its two Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies into a multi-night virtual presentation with details yet to be announced. But with Emmy voting now underway 17 days later than originally scheduled, it has also stuck with a plan to hold the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards on schedule on Sept. 20, a date first announced in early January. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the ceremony is doomed — but even before the coronavirus came along to throw schedules into disarray, and long before the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd made giving out showbiz awards seem frivolous, 2020 had been a miserable year for awards shows. Ratings were down across the board, sometimes to record lows. The credibility of many awards shows was fraying, with viewers increasingly aware of and concerned about the narrow-minded perspective that continually ignores the work of women and artists from underrepresented groups. And even the Oscars, which made the bold choice of “Parasite” for Best Picture and was applauded by nearly everyone for doing so, struggled to recover from a string of missteps that were designed to boost ratings but failed miserably. The awful year began on Jan. 5, when the Golden Globe Awards took place in the face of widespread criticism that none of its best-director nominees were women. Ricky Gervais received largely negative response to his work as host, which included hectoring celebrities not to talk about politics. And the show’s rating, a 4.7 among viewers 18 to 49, and its total viewership, 18.32 million, were the lowest since 2012. Three weeks later, the Grammy Awards took place at a time when the Recording Academy was in a pitched battle with fired CEO Deborah Dugan. She accused the Academy of operating as a corrupt “old boys’ club,” complete with underhanded methods of choosing Grammy nominees. Serious questions hung over the legitimacy of its awards — and like the Globes, viewership fell, making it the least-watched Grammys since 2006. Ten days after that, the Oscars tried to right the ship after a shortened schedule that had led to a frantic awards season. But again, the show drew protests over the lack of any female directing nominees and over only one person of color, Cynthia Erivo, among the 20 acting nominees. The show, which didn’t have a host for the second consecutive year, turned into a satisfying and historic love-fest for Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” the first non-English film ever to win Best Picture. But it was also the lowest-rated and least-watched Oscars in history, mustering nearly 3 million fewer viewers than the previous low in 2018. For as long as the Oscars’ television audience has been measured, the show has only dropped below 30 million three times: this year, last year and the year before that. Meanwhile, France’s Cesar Awards caused an uproar when Roman Polanski’s “An Officer and a Spy” won three awards and prompted numerous walkouts led by “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” actress Adele Haenel, who shouted “Bravo, pedophilia!” as she and the film’s director, Celine Sciamma, walked through the lobby. (Even before that, the entire board of directors had resigned.) Then COVID-19 arrived. The Tony Awards were postponed indefinitely. The Cannes Film Festival awards didn’t happen, as the festival itself was replaced by a list of films that would have been booked. The Television Academy Honors, Peabody Awards and Pulitzer Prize ceremonies were also postponed indefinitely. The Daytime Emmys, Sports Emmys and Technology & Engineering Emmys were all replaced by virtual ceremonies. The Oscars were pushed all the way to April 2021, with other film awards shows tagging along and likely delaying the start of this year’s film awards season by two months. (February is the new December.) And long before Hollywood began to get back to business in any real way, protests shook the country and suggested that at a time when the country needs to seriously deal with systemic racism, handing out golden statuettes is not exactly a priority for anybody. And in that climate — with all the awards shows in January and February being ratings flops and all the ones since March being canceled, postponed or revamped — the Television Academy will try to pull off virtual Creative Arts Emmys presentations and then another, bigger show of some sort on Sept. 20. It might work. It might not. Best of luck to them. Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here. Emmy Magazine 2020 Drama Comedy Actors