Emmys 2011: How Jane Lynch and Mark Burnett Will Steer the Show (Q&A)

Williams + Hirakawa/Fox

The ceremony’s producer and host come clean about how they first paired up (on an airplane!), what wakes them up at night and the edgy stuff they're prepping for Fox's Sept. 18 broadcast.

If you had to pick the ideal pairing to jazz up this year's Emmys, you probably couldn't ask for more than TV's most prolific producer and comedy's "It" actress. Here, Mark Burnett -- the first reality producer to oversee the telecast -- and Jane Lynch, Glee's Emmy-winning mistress of sarcasm, talk about the stress and late-night panic attacks that come with putting together the TV biz's biggest night.

The Hollywood Reporter: Between producing The Voice, Shark Tank and Expedition Impossible, among others, you are one of the busiest people in the business. Why would you say yes to such a huge and crazy commitment as producing the Emmys?

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Mark Burnett: Well, simply, it's an honor. Having been fortunate enough to receive four Emmys, I know what it feels like to receive that pat on the back from your peers. I'm having fun! And to work with Jane has been a delight. Also, I've produced the MTV Movie Awards and the People's Choice Awards, so I've done a lot of live TV.

THR: How did you find out Mark wanted you to host?

Jane Lynch: I was on a plane going home from New York, and Mark was on the same flight. He came up to me and said: "I don't have the authority to offer this to you yet, but you're my first choice. Would you like to host the Emmys?" It was one of those things where you don't say no, but I was really afraid and nervous! The offer came within the week, and I was on board.

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Burnett: I didn't really have a second choice! I was just fortunate that she said yes and the TV Academy and Fox approved it. Jane has all the necessary qualities: She's a stage actress; she's a comedian; she's a movie star. Comedy is so important to the show. There's plenty of tears, and there's plenty of drama over who's going to win or not going to win. Ellen DeGeneres did an incredible job when she hosted [in 2001 and 2005]. The host has to keep the freight train running comedically. The greatest hosts have the ability to come out in Act 6 and still have something as funny to say as Act 3.

Lynch: Yes, moving things along, and then, when I do get those little chunks of time in between, entertain and set the tone. Then you have to get out of the way of the show.

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THR: Did the delay in contract negotiations between the TV Academy and the big-four broadcast networks abbreviate your prep time for the show?

Burnett: It didn't really cross my mind -- I had nothing to do with that. Honestly, this has been nothing close to what it was like to do The Voice in three-and-a-half months. That was the biggest crunch of my life. Sometimes, having less time creates more energy, more urgency. Sometimes it works.

THR: Mark, you've been quoted as saying that because the telecast is on Fox this year, it will be "edgier and hipper." How so?

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Burnett: Each network has its own flavor, and I think Fox has a little bit of an edge that allows us try to do some different things here. Remember, it's the Emmys, it's a really important night. It's not the MTV Movie Awards. So I'm not talking about anything like that. You'll see. We've got a few things planned that are good fun and I think fit Fox very well.

Lynch: Mark has allowed me to have input every step of the way. My good friend Jill Soloway [United States of Tara, Six Feet Under] is the head writer of this thing. My sensibilities and hers are in line. I felt really confident and safe, and I love what we've come up with so far. I know that I could go to Mark with anything and say, "I'm not comfortable with this," but it would never get to that point.

THR: Jimmy Fallon raised the bar last year for musical numbers. Can we expect the same from Jane this year? Will there be involvement from the Glee cast?

Burnett: Oh yes. She's definitely going to sing. I want to also add -- and I've said this -- last year's Emmys was fantastic, so there's obviously pressure to try to do as good a job.

Lynch: I'm not going to tell you! [Laughs.] No, we're not done writing it, so we'll have to see. I mean, Sue Sylvester is the reason I'm now considered famous on television, so I'm very grateful to her and Glee.

THR: The ratings crept up a bit last year, but there's still pressure to attract more young viewers. Do the Emmys need an extreme makeover in that respect?

Burnett: No. Every show needs to be freshened every year, just like I've done with Survivor, and as I said, last year was fantastic, so our goal is to do as good a job as last year. But each year is always slightly different because it's on a different network. As for younger viewers? It certainly would be nice. There are a lot of young stars on TV now, and certainly plenty of them translate to younger audiences -- especially on Fox, which tends to skew the youngest.

THR: What are you most nervous about in terms of the live-show aspect of the Emmys?

Burnett: There are a lot of awards, so it's a matter of finding the funny and "exhale" moments in between. Some of the awards become very exciting and emotional and great fun. It's a matter of finding those moments within a tight three hours.

Lynch: The live stuff is what wakes me up in the middle of the night going, "Oh God!" We've done some pretty tame pretaped things, which are in the can. One of the things that comforts me is that it's not about me -- I'm not going to have a lot to do. When I get in those moments where I get scared, my focus needs to be that it's my job to do my joke and get off the stage and let the awards be what the show is about. It won't be a snarky show.

THR: Mark, you said during the TCA press tour that the In Memoriam clip package doesn't have to be such a "downer." What's your strategy for handling that part of the show?

Burnett: There's a way to choose music that is contemporary and celebrates the work left behind -- that's really what I meant by that. You look at the package and people can get passed over, and they're really missed. It can be upsetting, especially for the families. But in terms of this business, the work does live on. The person leaves the planet, but their spirit carries on and their work carries on. Celebrating the work is what I'm trying to do. I think the way you do that is through clips that show the work and, of course, the music.

THR: Jane, you're nominated again for best supporting comedy actress for Glee -- a category you won last year -- while Mark's Survivor was snubbed for the first time. Is it easier or harder being a nominee while planning the Emmy telecast?

Lynch: I've barely thought about being a nominee this year. I'm so focused on the show, and that is good. Frankly, I was really glad to be in the musical opener last year because I didn't have to think about accepting an award or not accepting an award.

Burnett: Whenever my shows are not nominated, I feel snubbed. But I can't take it too personally. We have about 60 nominations and four wins for my shows. We're shooting season 24 of Survivor, season 12 of The Apprentice, season 3 of Shark Tank and prepping season 2 of The Voice. It's hard to complain.

THR: Jane, what advice would Sue Sylvester have for "Jane Lynch, Emmy host"?

Lynch: "Make sure it's all about you, and find some way to claim all of the awards for yourself."


Just Announced (THR exclusives): Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Drew Barrymore and (below, from left) Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor

Previously Announced: Ashton Kutcher, Julianna Margulies, Don Cheadle, Kaley Cuoco, Rob Lowe,  Melissa McCarthy, Lea Michele, Zooey Deschanel, Ian Somerhalder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Sofia Vergara