The Dos and Don’ts of Staging a Pandemic-Era Awards Show

The Dos and Don’ts of Staging a Pandemic-Era Awards Show


Are awards shows merely the perk for a fully functioning society, or is there a way to make them work even while the world around us in still in dire straits? These are the questions that many in Hollywood are asking after Sunday’s disastrous Golden Globes ceremony brought in 6.9 million viewers, a free-fall plunge from last year’s tally of 18.3 million.

Certainly, people have more pressing matters on their minds than whether “Nomadland” can beat “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but even casual movie fans surely cringed (or changed the channel) when technical difficulties nearly torpedoed the speech given by Golden Globe winner Daniel Kaluuya at the top of the show. We’re all tired of buggy Zoom calls by now, even when those thumbnails are filled with Hollywood’s best and brightest.

There are still nearly two more months before the Oscar telecast on April 25, which will be produced by the often innovative Steven Soderbergh alongside Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins. It won’t be easy for them to mount a glitzy gala during a still-raging pandemic, but here are the lessons that can be learned from the awards shows that were unlucky enough to go first.

In too many of the ceremonies I’ve watched this year, from the Gotham Awards to the Golden Globes, the first big winner of the night either had no idea when to speak or was still on mute when they finally began to. Clearly, some more robust preshow prep is necessary: If you’ve already got the stars on standby, keep drilling them offscreen until they know their cue to come in. (And send them better cameras and microphones, when possible.) An acceptance speech ought to begin with emotion, not technical difficulties.

The Golden Globes booked two sets of consummate vampers — the “Saturday Night Live” vets Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson, and the “Barb and Star” leads Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo — but each duo’s improvised patter only made a ramshackle show feel even more chaotic. Improv comedy works better as a palate cleanser during a tightly scripted ceremony, and it feels perverse to let comedians churn through show time in pursuit of a punchline when some of the biggest winners then have their speeches quickly curtailed by wrap-it-up music.

Live award ceremonies still feel hemmed in by awkward social distancing, but plenty of movies and television shows are back in full production all over the world. The Oscars could take advantage of their long lead time and ask some of Hollywood’s wittiest to shoot pretaped bits, running no more than thirty seconds, to help expand the breadth of the show in safe and creative ways. Call up Taika Waititi and have him improvise something funny with Chris Hemsworth! Tell Judd Apatow that yes, it has to be 30 seconds — not 60! And any shorts that are cut for time can easily be released online the next day to extend Oscar’s golden afterglow.

Look, it’s been fun to get a glimpse into celebrity homes, but after the Golden Globes, I feel like I’ve spent as much time in Aaron Sorkin’s living room as I have in my own over this past year. Let’s hope that the Oscars are able to lure more of the nominees out of their houses: If it’s still unsafe to pack them into the Dolby Theater, spread the honorees out over a variety of interesting locations in Los Angeles like the open-air Hollywood Bowl, the striking and cavernous Union Station, or the soon-to-open Academy Museum, which has a plenitude of theaters and gallery spaces that might as well go to good use now.

The Golden Globes may not have had a traditional red-carpet experience, but the show still delivered when it came to dressing up: Stars like Cynthia Erivo and Anya Taylor-Joy wore some of the most striking frocks of their careers during the ceremony, clearly relishing the chance to serve a look after lockdown. For those of us still consigned to sweatpants, a brief burst of Hollywood razzle-dazzle was much appreciated.

Still, some of that glamour is gummed up when the actors don’t even bother to get off the couch when they win a major televised prize. If the Oscars are forced into remote acceptance speeches, they should at least encourage the winners to rise to the occasion by standing up — it’ll feel less like a casual Zoom that way. (And if I can figure out how to balance my laptop on a stack of shoeboxes while videoconferencing, then so can celebrities.)

The Super Bowl has managed to turn its larded length into a feature, not a bug: It’s the rare show where people tune in specifically to see what will happen during the commercials. The Oscars ought to seize the same opportunity, stocking each ad break with teasers for some of the year’s biggest movies. ABC could guard against a Globes-like ratings drop if its parent company Disney promised first footage from films like “West Side Story” and the forthcoming Marvel entries “The Eternals” and “Shang Chi,” and other studios ought to follow suit.

Sell us on the magic of movies during each commercial break, and that excitement will surely carry over to the show itself. After a miserable year for moviegoing where the theatrical sector has practically cratered, all those trailers would even act as a public service: Finally, there’s something to look forward to again.



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