Early Emmy Plans Set the Stage for an Evolution of Pandemic Awards Shows

Days before the Television Academy graced us with the nominations for the 2021 Emmy Awards, the organization announced its early plans for the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, scheduled for Sunday, September 19.

There was plenty of new and interesting tidbits about TV’s biggest evening revealed. First and foremost was the announcement that actor and comedian Cedric the Entertainer would be serving as host for this year’s ceremony, a choice that is both exciting and low-key historic.

Choosing the star of the CBS sitcom “The Neighborhood” isn’t exactly groundbreaking for a year in which CBS will be airing the ceremony, but what is slightly more out of the ordinary is The Eye opting not to put one its late-night stars in the role. With both Stephen Colbert — who hosted in 2017 — and James Corden — who has somewhat surprisingly never hosted — in the fold, it would have been an easy choice just to default to the status quo.

But Cedric the Entertainer has his own hosting chops. In addition to previously hosting the American Music Awards, the Critics’ Choice Television Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, the Soul Train Awards, and the TV Land Awards, The Entertainer has previously hosted “ComicView,” “It’s Worth What,” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” as well as “The Greatest #AtHome Videos” and “The Greatest #StayAtHome Videos” more recently for CBS itself.

And yet the CBS choice to go with Cedric the Entertainer is in itself historic, as it marks only the second time in Emmy Awards history that a Black man will host the ceremony by himself. The first? A complete wild card pick in Bryant Gumbel, also chosen by CBS, to host the show in 1997.

If that blows your mind, consider the fact that only one person of color — one — has even had the opportunity to share the stage at the Emmy Awards since Gumbel’s stint in 1997 — “Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che when he co-hosted with “Weekend Update” collaborator Colin Jost in 2018.

“Since I was a little boy huddled up next to my grandmother, television has always been my reliable friend, so it is an enormous honor for me to host this year’s Emmy Awards,” said Cedric the Entertainer in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Throughout the roller-coaster of a year that we have all lived through, television has helped us stay connected as a society like never before. It not only entertained us, but as it always has, it helped to open our eyes, educate us, and hopefully brought about a better understanding of who we are as a people. I can’t wait to take the stage to celebrate all of the great shows and performances that made us laugh, cry, dance, and sing over the past year.”

But buried a little deeper in last week’s Emmy Awards announcement was another fascinating reveal about the ceremony to come. In addition to airing on CBS as previously planned, the event will also be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. While ceremonies have previously been streamed on network specific apps or websites, this appears to be the first time that live-streaming has been available purely on an official streaming service, which feels like the next step in streaming integration and a potentially savvy move by CBS to drive subscribers to the service (and, hopefully, lure back a few Emmy viewers).

Despite all that, the information that really feels like it will define this year’s Emmy Awards is the fact that the show plans to return to a live, in-person awards ceremony at the Microsoft Theatre, albeit with a limited number of nominees and their guests.

This makes sense, given the rising vaccination rates, coupled with the fact that the Academy Awards pulled off a (relatively) successful ceremony in April. But things have already changed since the Emmy Awards ceremony details were released. On Saturday, Los Angeles County will again require mask compliance in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, thanks to spiking infection rates in large part attributed to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

People want to believe that the worst of the pandemic is over and are anxious to return to their lives: dining in restaurants, drinking in bars, going to the movies in theaters. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that whatever new normal we arrive at, it’s going to look a lot more new than normal.

The Emmy Awards had arguably the best pandemic-era awards show in 2020, recognizing the clear and present danger that the virus threatened and going above and beyond to adapt their ceremony strategy to maintain a sense of fun and distraction in the most serious of circumstances. Was it perfect? No. Could it have been more adventurous and deviated even further from the traditional layout of an awards ceremony? Sure.

But this ceremony is overseen by the exact same people who engineered last year’s success: Emmy Award-nominated producers Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart.

Hudlin and Stewart know how to make a dynamic show in a difficult situation. Let’s hope they’re able to find that sweet spot again, amid a still ever-changing landscape.

Awards shows are ready for a revolution. Maybe this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards will be the one to start the uprising.

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