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Emmy Producers Reveal the ‘Smallest Thing That Could Take the Whole Show Down’

And it has nothing to do with the awards show being host-free

While you’re busy finalizing your Emmy predictions in hopes of winning that office pool, the TV awards show’s producers are preparing for anything that could go wrong this Sunday — which is apparently everything.

“That’s the point with live TV, that’s why it’s so exciting,” Done+Dusted president Ian Stewart told TheWrap. “You look at every single item, and there are hundreds of them, and there’s something that could go wrong with every single one of them. The thing I always think is that, if everyone slips on a banana skin, it’s what you do immediately after that’s important. So live TV, things go wrong, which is why it’s so exciting. But that’s what we do, you immediately try and cover that or come up with another plan or have contingencies that you can go to.”

“We spend a lot of time thinking about what can go wrong and making plans for them,” Don Mischer Productions partner Charlie Haykel added. “And we like to think that when we anticipate what could go wrong, when something goes wrong that we can’t anticipate, that we have the bandwidth to deal with it.”

This year, Don Mischer Productions and Done+Dusted are co-producing the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards for Fox, which means two different companies have come together to plan for “everything from earthquakes to power outages to somebody falling and hurting themselves on stage,” according to Haykel.

But out of all those possible disasters, the smallest one that could pack the biggest punch might surprise you.

“When the prompter goes down and people have got nothing to read!” Stewart said.

Haykel added: “Yes! And it’s the smallest thing that could take the whole show down. Like Ian said, the teleprompter — you have a show that costs millions and millions of dollars and it’s one element that you probably spend, with manpower and technology and everything, $15,000 on and we’ve been working on this show since March, and this person shows up for five days and they can literally stop the show if something goes wrong with that.”

Aside from worrying about teleprompter issues, the producers are prepping for a host-free show, though the pair say that was a creative decision the team agreed on, not one that was forced on them because they couldn’t find an emcee.

“We never actually went out to anyone,” Stewart said. “We were trying to consider new ways and a fresh approach and especially on Fox this year, which is a fresh, new Fox, of how we could cover the show.”

Stewart explained that because TV’s biggest night includes giving out 27 awards, there’s only about 23 or 24 minutes in the show that “you can do other things with.”

“If you do decide to go with a host, which is a legitimate decision, then if they do a 10- or 12-minute monologue then you sort of have about 14 minutes left in the show to do other things that isn’t giving out awards,” he said. “So we felt we could use those 23 or 24 minutes better for other things we wanted to put in the show.”

So, with a host-free show, the producers will be skipping a monologue and opening bit and going right into handing out the awards. They plan to use some of the time they’ll get back to honor big shows that went off the air this year — like “Veep,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Game of Thrones” — “in some interesting and memorable ways, to be a little coy,” Haykel said.

The producers are also hoping to be able to give winners a little more time to talk with that extra cushion — though they are still fine with shorter acceptance speeches.

“We’re not encouraging people to speak more (laughs),” Haykel said, “but what we’re as producers going to be able to do is not cut people off who are saying something poignant.”

Haykel and Stewart say the show will be broken into five parts with awards given out by genre — comedy, drama, limited series, unscripted and variety — and the Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series still held for the big finish. The producers are hoping this sense of structure will help the show feel “fresh” and keep the audience (both at home and in the Microsoft Theater) from suffering from what they call “award fatigue” with a steadily paced event.

“We have contingency plans for everything, so if something run longs or runs short — although that never happens — you’ve just got to have a way out of every item,” Stewart said. “So if that goes long, what are we going to do? And that’s not a discussion that you have in the show, that is a plan that you have sitting next to you. Live producing is exactly the worst job in the world because the very best that can happen is you get out on time without a disaster, and everything else that can happen is normally a disaster.”

Even with all that planning, there are things the producers can’t possibly prepare for — like Oscars director Glenn Weiss popping the question on stage at the 2018 Emmys. But that turned out to be a memorable moment and a fortunate surprise for the producers.

“Last year at the Emmys, some of the stuff that happened was actually helpful,” Stewart said. “Glenn Weiss proposing to his then-girlfriend suddenly meant that we lost so many minutes when he did that. But it was an amazing moment.”

It was, and it will be hard to top. So fingers crossed for Haykel and Stewart this Sunday.

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Fox.