Emmys fail to overcome COVID-19 challenges

Cullen Fagan, Senior Staff Reporter

Like always, this year I watched the Emmys on my laptop from a shoddy stream link I got from direct messaging a random person on Twitter. Not like always, so did everyone else. Well, maybe not from a Twitter link, but, you know, semantics. This Sunday, celebrities and audience members alike streamed into the first high-profile award show of the season, demonstrating how the entertainment industry is attempting to adjust to the new normal of the pandemic.

outline of a woman wearing a fancy shirt and sweatpants
With the Emmys being held virtually, fashion was one of many aspects of the show that looked a bit different this year. (Emma Vaughters)

After a few hiccups in the pre-show — the virtual red carpet was canceled because E! host Giuliana Rancic came down with, you guessed it, COVID-19 — the Emmys began with host Jimmy Kimmel addressing a stadium full of cardboard cutouts of celebrities who would usually be in attendance. Kimmel certainly didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room, with a number of gags revolving around sanitation, technical difficulties and other new realities of the pandemic world.

There were definitely some highlights — “Succession” and “Watchmen” both won big, deservedly. Zendaya winning Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series, the youngest actress ever to do so at 24, was particularly heartwarming. It was even a historical Emmys, with a record number of Black performers — 11 — winning in their categories. But the construction of the show was disjointed and tedious at the best of times and a disservice to the televised winners. More often than not, I found myself getting distracted or spacing out in the middle of bits, wishing I was doing something else and just watching the few bright moments as reruns on Twitter.

The ratings for this year’s Emmys were lower than they have ever been before — for good reason. Though this can partly be attributed to the limitations on the show’s quality and content imposed by the pandemic, it also represents a larger downtrend in award show viewership and interest. Viewers just don’t care as much about watching, and this year’s show certainly didn’t change their minds.

The pandemic is projected to continue throughout this awards season and possibly into the next, as experts say a widely available vaccine won’t be ready until well into next year. After this year, especially if other award shows struggle the same way, it would certainly be difficult to justify continued spending on these big-budget televised events. There will likely be a push to keep them out of tradition and desire for recognition from agents of the film and TV industry, but the pandemic also threatens the real, accelerated possibility of the end of the award show as we know it.