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No red carpet? No problem. The preshows are ready for a ‘semi-glamorous’ Emmys

Portrait of actress Vivica A. Fox
Actress Vivica A. Fox, who will cohost E’s “Live From the Red Carpet” Emmy preshow, photographed in Porter Ranch. This year’s edition will be virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards are rolling up, instead of rolling out, the red carpet.

Because of the continuing dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festivities saluting excellence in TV will be virtual for host Jimmy Kimmel, presenters and dozens of nominees, throwing a wrench into the gala ceremony. Health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus also are affecting the Emmy preshows, which have long served as a warm-up to the festivities while offering a “guilty pleasure” component for armchair fashion critics weighing in on the best- and worst-dressed celebrities in attendance.

And like the Emmys, the preshows are moving forward, adjusting to their new reality by reimagining the tradition in unique ways. Executives and hosts maintain that the Emmys and the preshows are actually more significant this year, providing a much-needed escape for viewers from the onslaught of headlines focused on the pandemic, the upcoming election and nationwide protests.

“As they say in Hollywood, the show must go on,” said Jen Neal, general manager of E! entertainment news, live events and lifestyle digital. The cable network, which specializes in coverage of celebrities in show business and in the reality arena, is presenting a slate of live shows before and after the Emmys, in addition to digital and live streams geared to fans.

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ABC, which is broadcasting the Emmys, will have a “virtual red carpet” with a 90-minute live countdown show on streaming news channel ABC News Live leading into the 5 p.m. awards. KTLA Channel 5 also is proceeding with its long-standing tradition of a live preshow hosted by entertainment anchor Sam Rubin and morning news co-anchor Jessica Holmes.

Stylists to the stars expect a high/low mix that includes loungewear, tuxedos — and a get-out-the-vote message.

“We all need a little bit of glamour now,” said Jason Ball, KTLA news director . Added Holmes: “With so many heavy things happening, it does feel a bit frothy, but there is a part of us that needs a little escapism to take our mind off things for a while. I would rather have it be the way it used to be, but we’re going to try and go with it — roll with the punches.”

Rubin said the impact of the pandemic may actually boost viewer interest in these Emmys. The show has struggled in the ratings in the last few years, hitting a record low in 2019.

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“The awards serve a more important purpose than they have in a long time,” Rubin said. “In recent years, there has qualitatively been so much television that you don’t have time to sort through it all. But we’ve had more time during the past months to consider the offerings. There’s been more leisure time for entertainment.”

ABC’s 90-minute live “Countdown to the Emmys,” produced by ABC News Live, will be available on several platforms, including the ABC News app and the ABC News and Emmys websites. The special will be produced from New York at ABC News headquarters and be hosted by “Good Morning America” cohosts Eva Pilgrim and Whit Johnson and ABC News’ Janai Norman.

The show will feature live interviews with nominees and pretaped packages, including showcasing what ABC calls “the most diverse group of nominees ever.”

KTLA's Sam Rubin and Jessica Holmes with Emmy Awards.
KTLA’s Sam Rubin and Jessica Holmes, who have hosted Emmy preshows for the last decade, will do so once again this year despite the pandemic, with virtual interviews and social distancing.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
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E! will lead off its Emmy programming with” Countdown to the Red Carpet” at 1:30 p.m. Hosts E! Style Correspondent Brad Goreski, “Nightly Pop” cohost Nina Parker and actress Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black”) will discuss “the top 10 things we can’t wait to see in terms of celebrities and fashion,” Neal said.

That show will be followed at 3 p.m. by “Live From the Red Carpet,” hosted by Giuliana Rancic and actress Vivica A. Fox, who will be stationed on a new custom set at Universal Studios (E! is owned by NBCUniversal).

Said Neal: “We will be embracing the red-carpet aesthetic. We’ll be bringing audiences at home into the homes of celebrities, conducting interviews through Skype and Zoom. We’ll be covering fashion — we know some will get dressed in festive attire, while others will be more ‘pajama chic.’

Thanks to COVID-19, Reginald Hudlin, the first Black executive producer in Emmys history, has many unknowns to plan for. But don’t expect ‘The Zoomies.’

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And while the tone of the evening will be largely celebratory, Neal continued, “We’re also going to be very grounded in the reality of 2020 — COVID-19, the election, Black Lives Matter. So the tone will be to give celebrities the microphone to talk about the things that are most important to them, whether it’s a project they’re working on, social interests, whatever. We want to be grounded in the moment of where we are today.”

For her part, Fox said she was overjoyed to be working with Rancic on the preshow — in part because “it’s kind of like the beginning of a return to normalcy.” She added that she’s been doing some heavy-duty bingeing on the nominees: “Got to do my homework.”

Emmys 2020

After the Emmys, E! will air a postshow featuring Parker and her “Nightly Pop” co-hosts Morgan Stewart and Hunter March.

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Emmys 2020

The three-hour KTLA preshow, starting at 2 p.m., also will have a custom set on a patio outside the station’s Hollywood studio.

“Right now, it looks like a place where you would take your lunch break,” Holmes said in an interview last week. “But we’re converting it so it will be semi-glamorous.”

Rubin said invitations have been sent to nominees and TV critics to join the duo on the makeshift red carpet, while others will be interviewed remotely. He also promised a “never-before-seen, whiz-bang technology that people will be amazed at when they see it.”

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A veteran of awards preshows, Rubin said he is planning to wear a tuxedo as usual, but also may don tennis shoes. Holmes is still up in the air about her wardrobe: “It will be fancier than what I wear for the morning show but probably not full-on gown. We usually don’t know what we’re going to wear until a few days ahead of time.”

Rubin said he always looks forward to hosting the preshow, though, as with everything else about 2020, he admits his emotions on the day of the ceremony may be more complicated: “It’s a real highlight. This time around, I might feel fantastic but I also may feel melancholy, that I really miss the experience. I really don’t know how I will feel.”


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