Last year’s Emmy Awards telecast on Fox was the least watched of all time. This year, the show’s producers are trying their hardest to program a show that will be entertaining throughout the night. However, even with the return of one-time host Jimmy Kimmel, they are facing forces out of their control.
“We try to keep pacing up. We try and put a lot of humor into it,” says Emmys executive producer Don Mischer, who adds that his team hopes to catch people flipping through channels once their must-watch programs end at 9 and 10 p.m. ET. “We program things [around those times] that will be interesting on our stage so that when they’re flipping through, they’re going to see something good and not a commercial and not something dull.”
As was the case last year, the 68th annual Emmy Awards ceremony will face stiff competition with a football game, as the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will square off. Last year, NBC’s Sunday Night Football game beat the Emmys, drawing in 26.4 million viewers over the award show’s 11.9 million viewers.
In order to lure viewers to this year’s ceremony on ABC, the producing team, which also includes co-executive prodcuers Charlie Haykel and Juliane Hare, are also looking to leverage social media. For example, they’re planning on using Facebook 360 for Kimmel’s opening monologue, although they won’t say for what. Overall, social media will serve an important function because it’ll help them spread the word about hilarious, unpredictable moments that happen at the Emmys.
“It’s pretty well proven that if something happens that does go viral and lights up Twitter, it generally will affect your ratings,” says Mischer. “We normally would get a bump in the ratings, so we really need to pay attention to that.”
While viral moments help make a successful show, the formula relies heavily on spontaneity. “If you try to create moments that are going to go viral, chances are it’s going to fail,” says Haykel. “The great moments that go viral are always the moments that you don’t 100 percent anticipate or plan for.” (For example, Julia Louis-Dreyfus kissing Bryan Cranston on the way to the stage to accept her award at the 2014 ceremony.)
Without giving too much away, the producers say Kimmel is focused on making the show fun for everyone in the room, because that kind of energy will translate to viewers at home. The key to getting those GIF-able moments, it seems, is to create an environment where the guests feel comfortable acting impulsively, and then it’s on the production team to expect the unexpected and be prepared to capture it.
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“We always try not to overly plan too much,” says Mischer, whose team has worked on 13 previous Emmy broadcasts. “These shows, if they feel like they have spirit and a direction of their own, it always feels better… We’re ready to follow it if it goes someplace.”
Although the producers aren’t aware of everything Kimmel has planned for the show, they’re confident he’s the right man to steer the show. “The host is a critical element, and you want a person up there who wants to be there, feels completely comfortable being there, can roll with the punches and deal with things as they happen on the spur the moment,” says Mischer. “Jimmy is really fast on his feet. He’s very responsive to what’s going on around him.”
The 68th annual Primetime Emmy Awards air live Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.