20 Sep 2020

Emmys now a 'battle of the streamers'

From Sunday Morning, 11:30 am on 20 September 2020

This year's 72nd Emmy Awards ceremony tomorrow won't have the same glitz and glamour as usual; the awards will be announced to an empty hall because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Pete Hammond, Deadline's awards columnist and chief film critic covers the Oscar and Emmy Seasons, and is widely considered one of the pre-eminent awards season commentators for film and television. He talked with Sunday Morning about what could be the strangest Emmy Awards show of all time.

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Photo: AFP

"It will be the empty Emmys, at the Staples Center - the biggest location they could possibly find to play to an empty audience," Hammond says.

"It will be Jimmy Kimmel, a few guests, no audience, probably about 30 people total in the whole building, for this enormous technological challenge. About 140 cameras - these so-called simple to assemble camera kits that they sent out to all the nominees, they hopefully will [feed] into that central location and they'll be able to do a show from there, flipping around the world to people's homes - never seen an Emmy show like it."

The nominees this year are a marked terrain shift from previous years, where networks like NBC, CBS and ABC dominated and competed hotly against each other to collect the most awards. Now, streaming services like Netflix, HBO and Disney rule the roost.

"It really has changed in a big way," Hammond says. "In the top three categories the only network that got anything was in comedy series; NBC for The Good Place.

"It really isn't a ballgame here for the broadcast networks. In some categories like Variety, and Reality they still have a footprint, but in the top marque categories, no. Now there's all these new outlets including Apple, Hulu, Netfllix and Amazon."

Pete Hammond speaking at the Cinema Vanguard Awards in Santa Barbara, California, in January.

Pete Hammond speaking at the Cinema Vanguard Awards in Santa Barbara, California, in January. Photo: AFP

Will the US be watching? Hammond says last year's awards ceremony was the lowest rated of all time.  

"Jimmy Kimmel predicted this would be the lowest rated Emmys of all time," he says.

"I argued with him, I think people love to watch what they think may be a train wreck, and I think this has nowhere to go but up.

"I actually think there will be interest, for two reasons: one, it's a different format, and they're selling it like that. As Jimmy described it to me it's a combination of the Emmys and Big Brother, you get to see celebrities in their homes, I think there's an interest in the audience to see that, and to see them with their families in a non-traditional award-show fashion.

"But also I think the pandemic has helped the interest in the Emmys this year, ultimately, because people have been stuck at home, and they've been watching more television than they ever have before. So, I don't think it's going to be the lowest rated."

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) prepares to toast at the wedding of his daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) to Tom (Matthew McFadyen), flanked by his second wife (Harriet Walter) and his third (Hiam Abbas).

A scene from Succession. Photo: HBO

Big picks for this year include The Crown, Handmaid's Tale, Mandalorian, Stranger Things, Ozark and Succession. What are Hammond's picks to collect the gongs?

"I think in the drama series Ozark really took off this year, but Succession seems to be the one in the zeitgeist, so I think that's the one.

"The Mandalorian has won several awards already in the Creative Arts Emmys that have been going on all week, but I think that's to be expected, and I would be shocked if it actually pulled off drama series for Disney Plus. Academy voters - of which I'm one - are basic snobs, and don't go for sci fi or that kind of show.

"And The Crown is traditionally the kind of show that might win, but it hasn't won yet and I don't think it'll win this year.

"I think Succession is a show for the moment and has really caught on this year. It's basically a high end soap opera, it's Shakespearean in its own way, and I don't think Shakespeare has ever gone out of style, It basically sets up that kind of thing. As does Ozark.

"Both of those shows are very dark, and they go to dark places, and people seem to revel in watching that. I can't explain the psychology of the viewer, but that's definitely there in what they want to see. A lot of these shows that are nominated are dark, I mean The Handmaid's Tale, which won a couple of years ago is nominated again here and can't get much darker. Stranger Things, all of these have their dark side, Killing Eve - there's nothing really hopeful and bright about most of these nominees. It says we are what we watch."

Natasia Demetriou as Nadja and Matt Berry as Laszlo in What We Do In The Shadows.

Natasia Demetriou as Nadja and Matt Berry as Laszlo in What We Do In The Shadows. Photo: Supplied / FX Networks

This year's Emmy nominees include New Zealanders Taika Waititi, for The Mandalorian, Jemaine Clement and Waititi for What We Do in the Shadows, and Parris Goebel for choreography for the Savage x Fenty fashion show.

"What We Do in the Shadows - I love that show. It's very fun, it's clever, it's sort of a new age version of The Munsters and The Addams Family comedy that television used to do, and it's very smart, well acted, it's great," Hammond says.

"Taika Waititi and the whole New Zealand movement there, they're so smart, they know exactly what to do. Taika obviously won the Oscar this year, now up for an Emmy. But the writing is smart even though the genre is familiar. I think that's a terrific show.

"I'm in the writers branch of the television academy... and in our category for comedy series, three of the six nominations went to that show alone - What We Do in the Shadows.

"It all starts with the writers these things. Last year Succession won in writing, it didn't win in show. It's sort of a set- up of what you might see next year. And I think What We Do in the Shadows is a continuing success story. I think we'll see it do better, but I don't think it's going to win."

He says one of the most hotly contested categories to watch this year is Best Female Lead in a Drama Series.

"That's a really strong category; Jennifer Anniston won the SAG award for The Morning Show, and I don't think she's ever been better, it's a really great role.

"I think her strongest competition is Laura Linney in Ozark. Laura Linney has won four different Emmys for four different kinds of characters in the past. So she's an Academy darling.

"I suspect she's going to pull out the win, only because the show seemed to have more going for it in terms of Emmy Nominations. Then throw in the first season for Olivia Coleman in The Crown - don't discount her.

"It's a photo finish."