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The 2021 Emmys took great pains to be COVID-compliant, requiring attendees to be vaccinated and present negative test results, and the location for the awards show was even switched to the event deck at L.A. Live from its longtime venue of the Microsoft Theater in hopes the technically outdoor location would allow for better social distancing.
But very little time was wasted in the telecast before the setting was addressed — and questioned. Seth Rogen, in presenting the first trophy of the evening for supporting actress in a comedy series, said, “There’s way too many of us in this little room. They said it was outdoors. It’s not.” He added: “They lied to us. We’re in a hermetically sealed tent right now. I would not have come to this. Why is there a roof? This is insane. … I went from wiping my groceries to having Paul Bettany sneeze in my face. That’s a big week.”
Sunday night’s telecast marked the second Emmy Awards to have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, host Jimmy Kimmel faced an empty Staples Center while producers had the tough task of organizing upwards of 130 live feeds to loop in nominees from hotels, houses and parties in locations from L.A. to New York to Toronto. A year later, thanks to widespread vaccine distribution, strict protocols and rapid PCR testing on-site, the Television Academy was able to open up the show to many more in-person attendees.
Rather than host the telecast inside a venue like Staples or its usual home at the Microsoft Theater, organizers refashioned the L.A. Live event deck into Emmy Awards headquarters. A tented and air-conditioned structure hosted attendees in a gala-style format with tables as opposed to rows of individual seats. The setting, per the TV Academy, was done as a way to accommodate more socially distant seating and to keep nominees in groups.
While there were guests in attendance, all of whom were instructed to wear masks during commercial breaks, the crowd did not compare to the 7,000 or so that can typically fill the Microsoft Theater. Invites were scaled back as a way to keep the headcount lower than a “normal” year, meaning that nominated teams consisting of three or more were limited to no more than four tickets per nomination. Host Cedric the Entertainer countered Rogen’s comments after the commercial break and said that “it feels good” to be in the venue, together with a group of people that have followed all COVID-19 protocols. “We’re all vaxxed,” he said. “I got vaxxed and did not have a reaction like Nicki Minaj’s cousin.”
Nevertheless, travel is still affected by pandemic-based restrictions, particularly international travel, so remote locations once again proved a solid workaround. London’s Soho House hosted a satellite viewing party for The Crown. Nominees like Olivia Colman, Gillian Anderson, Emerald Fennell, Emma Corrin, Robert Fox, Suzanne Mackie, Jessica Hobbs and Oona O’Beirn attended on behalf of the Netflix standout drama series.
Those who checked out preshow streams and broadcasts may have noticed fewer journalists on the red carpet, too. The TV Academy scaled back credentialed media as another protocol to keep capacity tight. Major broadcast outlets and only a handful of print journalists were allowed to report live from Sunday’s show. “The health and safety of our nominees is of paramount importance,” the TV Academy said in a statement in August when the revamped plans were unveiled.
Fewer bodies and press led to a more muted entry for some.
“It feels eerily quiet,” The Crown star Josh O’Connor told E! News host Karamo Brown on the carpet. “It wasn’t the case at The Met [Gala, which took place in New York last Monday]. It’s so nice to be with other people in our industry. … it’s nice to be reunited with everyone.”
Inside, the energy got amped up thanks to a surprise musical number to kick off the show. Early winner Julianne Nicholson said backstage that she was having a great time. “The mood is really joyful and celebratory and upbeat,” said the Mare of Easttown winner. “People feel like they’re all there to support each other and cheer each other on. Cedric’s doing a great job — that opening song was such a surprise. Seth Rogen, I’m having a blast.”
The protocols inspired a bit featuring doctor-turned-actor Ken Jeong. He was due to present the trophy for variety sketch series, and when he was announced as next to the stage, Jeong did not show. “Awkward,” said announcer MC Lyte to kick off the bit. After the nominees were announced, MC Lyte called for him again, and when he didn’t show, the shot switched from the stage to outside the tent where Jeong was stuck in a confrontation with security.
“I didn’t get four booster shots to present remotely,” Jeong said, before joking, “Headshots are always the right credential.” The security guard wouldn’t budge, so Jeong offered up a look inside his bag to find his vaccination card. The guard reached in and produced a prescription bottle that said ivermectin, the controversial medication used for parasitic diseases that some are using for COVID-19.
“This ivermectin is not mine,” he said. “It’s left over from my Joe Rogan swag bag.”
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