While departing yet again from the look of Primetime Emmys of yore, Sunday’s presentation of television’s highest honors gave little overt appearance of being constrained by a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So much so, that the night’s first presenter, comic actor-writer Seth Rogen, joked that the site of hundreds of attendees assembled unmasked in an enclosed space, with no obvious sign of social distancing, made him uncomfortable even though vaccinations were mandated.
“Let me start by saying there are way too many of us in this little room. What are we doing?” Rogen, resplendent in a bright orange sport jacket, nervously dead-panned within the first few minutes of the show. “We’re in a hermetically sealed tent right now. I would not have come to this.”
From the opening hip-hop song-and-dance number, “Just a Friend,” performed as a vibrant sing-along led by the show’s host, Cedric the Entertainer, organizers sought to project entertainment value and glitz despite lingering public health and travel restrictions.
Show producers sought in media interviews beforehand to assure viewers that the 73rd annual Emmys would, indeed, be conducted safely, even as they worked to render the show with the look of a glamorous, star-studded dinner party.
Although attendees’ faces were uncovered while on camera, it was masks up during commercial breaks – a routine many screen performers have become accustomed to as they returned to work on production sets in the midst of the pandemic.
The telecast even played COVID-19 safety for laughs, as when comedian and presenter Ken Jeong was shown being denied admission by a security officer because he lacked sufficient proof of vaccination.
‘WE’RE ALL VAXED’
“Dude, I didn’t get four booster shots to present remotely,” Jeong insisted to a security guard during the gag, before announcing “Saturday Night Live” as the winner for best variety sketch series.
According to producers, and Cedric, the precautions were very real.
“We’re all vaxed,” the host told viewers early in the show. “I got vaxed, and I did not have a reaction like Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend,” a reference to a headline-making but unsubstantiated vaccination side-effects claim made by the Trinidadian rap star.
The CBS network show was broadcast from an air-conditioned tent outdoors at the L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles where, vaccinated and tested, 500 TV luminaries sat at tables, rather than in the auditorium setting normally packed with far more people for such affairs.
It marked one of the larger in-person gatherings of celebrities for an entertainment award show since the pandemic began in early 2019, and was a far cry from last year’s largely virtual Zoom-like Emmy broadcast hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.
Seating for Sunday’s event was limited to no more than four tickets per nomination. And owing to persistent travel limitations, many of the Emmy contenders joined the proceedings by satellite from London.
A contingent of British nominees, including cast members, producers, writers and directors of one of the night’s big winners, “The Crown,” gathered at the Soho House nightclub in London, eight hours ahead of the Pacific time zone, making it a middle-of-the-night affair for them.
The broadcast repeatedly, and seamlessly cut to London throughout the show as “The Crown,” tracing the story of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and the royal family, amassed awards for best lead actor and lead actress in a drama and for best drama series, among others.
Politics, which has increasingly emerged as a Hollywood awards season motif, was largely avoided.
One of the few notable exceptions came as CBS’ “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert took the stage to present the award for best supporting actress in a drama – the winner was Gillian Anderson for “The Crown” – and spoofed California’s recent gubernatorial recall election.
Colbert’s show later won an Emmy for its live broadcast on Election Night 2020.
In one of the more memorable acceptance speeches of the night, Renée Elise Goldsberry of Broadway’s history-themed musical hit “Hamilton,” which won for best pre-recorded variety special, gave a nod to the key cultural role television played during the pandemic, while sounding a note of hope over the impending return of Broadway.
“Television provided the platform for us to come together and put on a show. Look around, look around,” she said, alluding to the lyrics of the “Hamilton” song “That Would Be Enough.” “The curtains are going back up and the lights are coming back on.”