It’s a new day in America and — hopefully — a step in the right direction when it comes to containing and combatting the ongoing public health crisis that has plagued the country’s recent history. And also COVID-19. (Ba da dum!) While the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration would superficially have little effect on the future of the TV and film industry, several of the new president’s day one executive actions could impact just how long it’s going to take to get Hollywood back to work and its adjacent awards machine (and all the For Your Consideration events it entails) back in business.
President Biden has announced his intention to issue 17 executive actions in his first day in office, three of which will directly address the COVID-19 virus already in progress. The orders — which include a 100-day mandate asking Americans to wear masks and requiring masks and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands and by government contractors; the stoppage of the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization and institution of Dr. Anthony Fauci as the head of the U.S. delegation to the WHO; and the creation of the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator, who will oversee production and distribution of the vaccine — should speed the process to vaccinate the country’s populace and steer us closer than ever to a world that more resembles the one we left behind in March 2020.
But in the meantime, the awards calendar moves on and the TV industry finds itself trapped between what was, what is, and what might be between now and the ostensible end of the 2020-2021 awards season with the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in September.
Here’s what we know: In March of last year, the Television Academy suspended all FYC events that included a live audience and delayed and compressed the previously-announced calendar to allow for production delays brought about by the pandemic. In December, the organization released its planned 2021 calendar which saw events return to its typical timetable, with the end of eligibility on May 31, 2021 and the Emmy ceremonies still penciled in for September 2021.
What we also know is that there has yet to be any change in the TV Academy’s ban on in-person events for the upcoming FYC season — and that there’s no indication there will be any change in that policy in the immediate future. According to industry insiders, all 2021 FYC events will be virtual, save for allowances made for drive-through occasions.
With that in mind, the question becomes not “Will events be virtual?” but “How can we innovate virtual events to better serve our audience?” And that’s a question that is likely to persist not just in 2022 but beyond.
The fact is that the forced implementation of streaming and online FYC programming has introduced an accessibility that networks and streamers aren’t going to be able to suddenly retire once herd immunity is reached. One insider remarked that once you’ve given people a convenience, it’s impossible to take it back.
So while it’s almost certain that 2021 will proceed without Amazon Studios returning over the Hollywood Athletic Club or Netflix again taking over Raleigh Studios for its FYSee space, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t upsides to the virtual world of FYC gambits. For one thing, voters are able to take in pre-recorded events and panels at their leisure, working it around their own schedules rather than fighting through Los Angeles traffic to make it to the Television Academy in North Hollywood in time for a 6:30 p.m. weekday event. Sure, there’s less free food and drinks, but think of all of that free time spent not languishing on the 101 dreaming of the sweet release of death.
As for 2022, FYC events as we once knew them will likely return in full force, but expect continued additional accessibility through virtual and recorded means. Much like your boss will have a difficult time convincing you that working from home is an untenable option, voters will no longer accept that the only way to learn more about a network’s wares is on a folding chair in one of L.A.’s many warehouses or unoccupied theater spaces.
As for now, however, look for more of the same, with voters left mingling with TV dinners and not TV stars. It’s still a small price to pay for the survival of the species.