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What to Watch For at the 2020 Emmy Awards


Lights! Camera! And … let’s hope the Wi-Fi works.

The 72nd Emmy Awards on Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern time won’t look anything like the earlier ceremonies celebrating the year’s achievements in television and streaming.

Red carpet? Canceled. Actors seated shoulder to shoulder in an auditorium as the envelopes are unsealed? Nope.

Jimmy Kimmel will host the unpredictable ceremony from a nearly empty Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles as more than 100 nominees watch — and broadcast themselves — from locations ranging from Berlin to Fayetteville, Ga.

Producers of the show, airing on ABC and Hulu Live, have encouraged the nominees to dress however they want — and to feel free to have their kids and family pets with them on the couch when the winners are announced.

The makeshift quality may boost interest in an awards night that has grown stale in recent years. Despite a boom in scripted entertainment, ratings for the Emmys have declined sharply. The show drew 6.9 million viewers last year, a low.

In an effort to make the broadcast go as smoothly as possible, the Television Academy has sent a kit to each nominee with instructions on how to put together a D.I.Y. studio. It comes complete with a ring light, a microphone, a laptop and a camera. After that, it’s up to the nominees and their Wi-Fi signals to do the dirty work of beaming live images to viewers’ screens.

“We hope there’s not a major crash,” said Guy Carrington, an executive producer of the Emmys, in an interview.

About a dozen presenters and entertainers will join Kimmel on a stage built above the Staples Center basketball court. The show was moved from its usual spot, the Microsoft Theater, to the home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, because the arena has the technological wherewithal to accommodate dozens of remote feeds.

“We’ve all done some of the biggest award shows ever but none of us have done anything on this scale before,” said Reginald Hudlin, an executive producer.

In addition to tech challenges, the ceremony is likely to include pointed acceptance speeches. Against the backdrop of a searing presidential campaign, winners may go into issues including a national reckoning on race relations and police brutality; a pandemic that has killed close to 200,000 Americans; and a changing climate that contributed to the wildfires that ravaged the West Coast.

The ceremony usually takes three hours, but the producers were wary of pinpointing a running time.

“Who knows?” said Ian Stewart, an executive producer. “It might be way under. It might be way over. It might be on time. I think that’s unlikely.”

Oh, right: There are also going to be winners and losers.

HBO’s operatic drama, “Succession,” is the favorite for the most prestigious award, best drama. This chronicle of a cutthroat clan won best drama honors at the Golden Globes and the Television Critics Association Awards earlier this year, and the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, won the Emmy for best drama writing in 2019.

Other contenders have emerged to take the place of “Game of Thrones,” the HBO epic that won this category a record-tying four times. Netflix has a pair of possible winners in “The Crown” and “Ozark.” And don’t count out the Baby Yoda smash, “The Mandalorian.” The Disney+ action-adventure series won a number of technical Creative Arts Emmys, which were given out last week, and Television Academy voters do not scrunch their noses at mass entertainment.

The limited series category has become the Emmy ceremony’s glamour zone, with its big stars and blockbuster budgets. This year, a pair of shows that confronted social issues are in the lead: HBO’s “Watchmen” and the FX and Hulu mini-series “Mrs. America.”

“Watchmen,” Damon Lindelof’s ambitious take of the comic book genre, is the more likely winner. In addition to scoring the most nominations of any series this year, it recently won the Television Critics Association award for best series. At the same event, “Mrs. America,” an examination of the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment, was shut out.

Regina King, the star of “Watchmen,” is also favored to beat out Cate Blanchett, the “Mrs. America” star, in the category of best actress in a limited series. If King wins, she would take home her fourth Emmy statuette.

In a tale out of recent show-business lore, “Breaking Bad” plodded along on the cable channel AMC for years, receiving critical raves and small ratings. Then reruns started streaming on Netflix, and by time of its final season, millions of viewers started watching “Breaking Bad” on AMC — and it won the best drama Emmy at last.

“Schitt’s Creek” is hoping for a similar arc.

The Canadian comedy, created by Dan and Eugene Levy, which airs on Pop TV in the United States, had little more than a cult following before Netflix started streaming its past seasons. Now, months after the series finale, “Schitt’s Creek” is a favorite to win best comedy. Last week, the show won best casting for a comedy at the Creative Arts Emmys — and the winner of that award has gone on to win best comedy each of the last five years.

But Television Academy voters adore Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the winner of the best comedy Emmy in 2018. The midcentury romp from Amy Sherman-Palladino had the second most Emmy nominations of any show this year. “Insecure,” the HBO comedy created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, is also in the running.

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