“Our audience is at home wanting escapism,” E!’s head of live events Jen Neal says of Sunday’s two-hour Emmys pre-show
How do you put on a red carpet show with no red carpet? That’s the challenge E! will face when it puts on its “Live From the Red Carpet” Emmys pre-show on Sunday, marking the first time the network will have to cover a major awards show in the era of COVID.
“We had to think about this weekend in a completely different way this year,” Jen Neal, general manager of E! News, Live Events and Digital, Lifestyle Networks, said. “We literally have to look at every aspect of what we’re doing through a different lens.”
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Gone is the familiar parade of stars, lines of photographers and crowds of fans. Instead, viewers will tune in to a pre-show hosted by Giuliana Rancic and Vivica A. Fox featuring a new, socially distanced set and interviews with celebrities via video chat. Neal says to expect typical pre-show elements like predictions for the major categories and interviews about upcoming projects, only with a looser, “more spontaneous” feel than a traditional red carpet.
“I don’t think there are any precedents,” Neal said. “It requires more imagination and creativity and spontaneity. We’re working with [producers] Den of Thieves, who are terrific creative partners, helping us craft all of those special and unique moments in order to deliver on that. But it is unprecedented.”
MTV aired a pre-show ahead of the 2020 Video Music Awards featuring solo shots of its performers and presenters mixed together with memorable red-carpet looks from years past, but Neal tells TheWrap that E! is going in a different direction. For starters, the show will be live “as much as possible.”
“Obviously, this year, there’s complexity with making that happen as seamlessly as we have in the past,” Neal said, acknowledging the potential technical difficulties of doing a virtual live show.
But the theme of the evening is “You’re only live once,” and that’s for the good and the bad.
“We’re excited about what that can mean in both ways. It has been a different logistical challenge for sure,” Neal said. “Having to rely even more on technology does indicate that there could be moments that don’t work perfectly, but we’re embracing that and we are prepared with multiple ways to handle live production.”
Neal also says the show will find ways to address the current moment, whether that means the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement or the upcoming presidential election. Striking a balance between those issues and the excitement of a Hollywood awards show will almost certainly be a challenge, but it may be one alleviated slightly by the absence of the usual red carpet pageantry.
“Our audience is at home wanting escapism,” she said. “They want fun, they want celebration, but they also want to understand what the stars have to say about those important topics, grounding that reality. And just by the notion that we’re talking to people at home allows us to have different conversations.”
The lingering question at the back of everyone’s mind is, of course, will viewers want to tune into a red carpet show if there’s no red carpet? Sunday’s Emmys mark the first time that question will be put to the test, but barring a sudden medical breakthrough, it won’t be the last.
Neal is betting people will want to watch — out of sheer curiosity if nothing else.
“I think viewers are excited for this type of content and programming, for sure,” Neal said. “All viewers will be curious. You know, they want a place to go. And promising change and doing things in a different way, generally, really, really helps.”
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