Few in Hollywood speak with the enthusiasm and optimism of awards-show producers. A hybrid of party promoters and air traffic controllers, artists and makeshift medical experts (thanks to COVID-19), they’re regularly roasted for their efforts by either ratings or reviews and still eagerly come back for more. But Reginald “Reggie” Hudlin and Done+Dusted president Ian Stewart have good reason to be geeked about producing their third consecutive Emmy telecast Sept. 12. Their 2021 collaboration brought a ratings bump (up 1.4 million viewers to an audience of 7.8 million) and a well-received shift from theatrical seating to a starry dinner party. Teaming with 2022 host network NBC (and, with it, NBCU television and streaming executive vp live events and specials Jen Neal) for a show that returns to its massive Microsoft Theater digs for the first time since the pandemic eighty-sixed traditional gatherings, they’re hoping the TV audience grows alongside their in-person crowd. After all, this trio, who spoke with THR over Zoom in late August, doesn’t just produce live TV. They genuinely love it.
Reggie and Ian, you adopted a Golden Globes-esque dinner party format in 2021. With fewer restrictions, is the plan to recalibrate last year on a larger scale?
IAN STEWART Hell, yeah! Look, last year we could only have this little party. Anybody who was at a table was a celebrity. There weren’t marketing directors with their plus-20s, so, everywhere you looked, it was a party. Reggie overheard Sophia Bush say something to the effect of, “This is blowing my mind — I actually had fun at the Emmys.” And the ratings went up, so we asked what would happen if we blew that idea out of the water. It was a bit like throwing a grenade at NBC. Is this going to go “bang,” or is someone going to throw it back?
REGGIE HUDLIN No two shows look the same. We learn every time. I mean, the benefit of COVID was that it allowed us to innovate even more. These formats constantly need to be challenged, need to be changed. So, when we got the payoff of the ratings, reversing a long-standing decline, we said, “That’s great. How do we go bolder?”
JEN NEAL We want to surprise audiences. They haven’t seen a show like this, where everything is back to normal to the degree it can be, in more than two years. So, while the team is preparing for every scenario, we think this is going to be a big celebration of TV.
So you’re keeping the table format?
STEWART The only time I ever go out and sit in a row of seats, it’s in a darkened cinema. Tables work. We’ve taken that concept and expanded it out. We can’t put everybody who wants to come at a table — but, if you’re a nominee, you and your plus-one deserve a table. The other 3,000 people will actually get better seats than they’re used to, because they don’t have to be up in the gods.
The news that Kenan Thompson would host came quite late in the game. Was there debate about ditching an emcee entirely?
HUDLIN I’m a deep believer in hosts. When the Oscars first went hostless, I thought that was an extraordinary achievement. But I also knew that was a rare thing. That’s not really a replicable experience. I think we love a great host — someone who’s going to guide us through the evening and give us context. From the minute we announced Kenan, everyone was like, “Perfect choice!” You looked on the internet, which is where hate lives, and no one had anything negative to say. Why would you not have a piece of talent like that as your host?
NEAL What’s been great to see is his friends that want to show up for him and the types of ideas you get based on his network.
STEWART And even if he doesn’t know a person, he’s not coming after anybody. You know it’s not going to be mean with Kenan. It’s not going to be a hatchet job. We only get a few signals that we can send out to the population about the show we’re putting on, and the host is one of them.
I’m glad you brought up the tone. Since the Oscar slap, there’s been a lot of discussion about the jobs of presenters and hosts — and if that’s to roast or be more congenial. Where do you stand?
STEWART If I go to a party where someone’s going to rip me to shreds, I leave the party. So, we’re making a place where you feel inclusive. We want funny as hell and everyone celebrating together. Why be snarky to these people? We want people buoyed up by the excitement, like when [Ted Lasso actress] Hannah Waddingham won last year. Everyone was thrilled for her!
Last year’s ratings were up, but the overall trend has been grim. What happens if awards shows no longer justify their price tag?
NEAL You’re talking to three people that love live events. I think it’s critically important to continue to celebrate pop culture. It’s escapism. It’s a way to connect with family, friends, fandoms. It’s a congregation point. The task at hand is figuring out how we actually do these within a business model that makes sense while continuing to provide creative value for audiences.
HUDLIN I don’t think they go away. I think they evolve. They change. “Are we doing the right show at this time? Are we on the right platform? These are the questions we have to ask, but I think there’s a fundamental desire to celebrate excellence.
Is it the right time to do the Globes again? THR reported that they’re returning to TV in 2023 — but NBC has stayed mum, Jen.
STEWART Jen, if you want Reggie and I to bring it back, we’ll do it.
HUDLIN We’re here for you.
NEAL I would love to say, but we truly don’t have anything official to share at this point.
Well, unofficially, does a year interruption hurt a show like that?
HUDLIN Obviously, they needed to be reinvented in a profound, structural way. There are severe inequalities that hurt the show — because at the end of the day, the core of an awards show is celebrating the best talent. If they have a flawed process, because of whatever racial biases of any kind, that is not celebrating the best talent. There’s only one standard and it’s, “What’s great art?”
STEWART I don’t think the hiatus hurts if you come back with something that’s actually healthy again. The Golden Globes are beloved. There’s room for them. There was some underlying structural terribleness in there, like Reggie says, which has been addressed. The only problem I see is getting a phone call: “Can we have our tables back, please?”
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.