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Who’s Next? Coronavirus Uncertainties Casts a Pall Over Upcoming Emmy Season

While public safety is of the utmost importance, it's not unthinkable that some might use the threat of infection to eliminate less-desirable elements of the FYC process.

A Emmy award statuettes are seen during the 2017 Governors Ball Press Preview at The Los Angeles Convention Center on in Los Angeles, Calif2017 Governors Ball Press Preview, Los Angeles, USA - 07 Sep 2017

An Emmy Statue

Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The announcements now come with surprising regularity.

Apple, Amazon, and Netflix, among other entertainment giants, decided to pull out of SXSW originally scheduled for March 13-22, and within days, all of SXSW was canceled due to public health concerns. “No Time to Die,” the latest installation of the James Bond franchise has been postponed until November, despite an original release date of April 8. Production of the 33rd season of CBS reality staple “The Amazing Race” has been put on indefinite hold, with contestants and production staff returning home, thanks to the global pandemic scare.

Even beyond industry investment concerns, there are schedule fluctuations happening throughout Southern California. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times announced the postponement of its annual Festival of Books and Food Bowl due to Coronavirus concerns, with both the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals rumored to follow suit in the days to come.

Making the call to postpone or cancel a long-standing event is gut-wrenching, no matter the circumstances, and the situation facing the television industry is even more mind-boggling. What do you do when a crisis is threatening not just an event, but the entirety of its For Your Consideration season? And, on a nuts-and-bolts level, could the concerns over COVID-19 result in a much-needed re-evaluation of the whole FYC dog-and-pony-show process?

Anyone currently torn between waiting in line for six hours at Costco and keeping their head down and washing their hands a little more often can empathize with the Emmy season conundrum. For now, the Television Academy has opted for the proactive, yet practical route. Last week, the organization issued several messages for its membership regarding the illness and the inevitable close quarters of member events and peer group meetings.

In one, the Academy urged common-sense solutions including suggestions for regular handwashing, remaining at home if feeling under the weather, and seeking medical care if showing symptoms of COVID-19.

But later in the week, the group shared that more stringent changes would be implemented immediately through the remainder of the current FYC season, scheduled through June 14.

Specifically, the TV Academy announced that moving forward, any and all talent and panel participants would be unavailable for interactions with the audience. That means that any individual hoping to exchange a few words with a beloved celebrity is now out of luck, as panelists can no longer give autographs, pose for selfies, or participate in meet-and-greets. The policy change even goes so far as to eliminate questions from the audience, likely under the auspices of containing potential cross-contamination via microphone sharing. But perhaps, it’s also because so many questions from an unscreened audience pool are often terrible and not particularly enlightening?

To that end, only one network participant has opted to cancel a planned FYC in the midst of the growing panic, with Netflix eliminate the event for “Lost in Space,” citing “an abundance of caution for members, talent, partners, and employees. We are exploring options for a future panel/event and will provide details as available.”

It’s a sensible decision given the circumstances, but not all players are making the same choice. On the same day that Netflix the FYC cancellation, HBO held an FYC event on each coast, one in New York City for “The Plot Against America” and one in Los Angeles for the third season of “Westworld.” The latter was packed to the gills, with attendees showing no outward concern for their health while chowing down at the buffet and at the open bar.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Aaron Paul, Tessa Thompson, and Luke Hemsworth attend the screening & panel discussion of the HBO drama series "Westworld" at Wolf Theatre on March 06, 2020 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO)

“Westworld” FYC 2020

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Further, Netflix itself isn’t consistently proceeding with hypercaution. The streamer has four FYC events scheduled in the next two weeks, with no indication (as of yet) that there’s any plan to cancel or postpone.

While public safety is of the utmost importance, it’s not unthinkable that some might use the threat of infection to eliminate less-desirable elements of the FYC process. Eliminating direct interaction between talent and fans would provide some protection from illness, but doesn’t eliminate the hazard of hundreds of people breathing on each other in a crowded space. Beyond that, it seems reasonable that if an event wanted to provide interaction between attendees and panelists, questions from the audience would need only a relatively easy tweak (two stationary microphone stands wiped down after each question) to make it largely sterile.

But I suspect you’d find few stars who love to be scrummed after events and few showrunners who love explaining where they got the idea for their series while trying to promote Season 6. And, let’s face it: A day after the “Lost in Space” FYC was supposed to happen, Netflix announced that the show was ending with a third and final season.

It’s unclear how the run-up to the Emmys will play out. How safe is food at receptions? Is it feasible (and engaging) to transition FYC events into streamable, audience-free affairs? Is that a move that FYC events are better suited for anyway?

We’ll see, sooner or later. Until then, wash your hands. And for God’s sake, stop touching your face.

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