RuPaul accepts the Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program from Erin Moriarty.

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September 19, 2020
Awards News

A Creative Arts Emmys Like No Other

Unfolding over five nights, with first-time wins, historic achievements and stars sporting everything from tuxes to T-shirts, Creative Arts 2020 did not stint on surprises.

Liane Starr

The word unprecedented has been used in reference to a lot of things this year — including the year itself — but there's no doubt that the adjective perfectly applies to the 2020 Creative Arts Emmy Awards. "It has been quite an adventure," said executive producer Bob Bain. "This [show] pretty much requires that you start over in terms of your production plan."

After streaming four consecutive nights on — September 14-17 — the final night of the Creative Arts Emmys, held Saturday, September 19, aired on FXX (though a few pre-recorded segments, including the In Memoriam tribute, repeated every night) with some moments that were familiar (the FXX show ran long) and others less so (though acceptances were pre-recorded, no winners were "played off").

The strange and, yes, unprecedented nature of this year's awards inspired some creative moments no one could imagine happening at previous Emmys. John Hodgman of the animated FXX series Dicktown turned on multiple lights in his home, offering "glowing recommendations" and other illumination puns to introduce the Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series category, while the winners for Outstanding Interactive Extension of a Linear Program, USA's Mr. Robot, had one person accept the award wearing the show's infamous Guy Fawkes mask with a digitally altered voice.

Nicole Byer, of Netflix's Nailed It, was the host for all five nights — and made sure viewers knew they'd be seeing her same sparkly blue dress throughout — and a variety of stars introduced pre-taped segments, either from their homes or at the Television Academy campus in North Hollywood. Celebrities ranging from RuPaul to Dylan McDermott to Leslie Odom Jr. (as well as couples Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton, and Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne) introduced segments, wearing everything from dapper tuxedos to T-shirts and straw hats. Even the accountants from Ernst and Young gamely donned hazmat suits (with a third accountant wearing a tux inside a bubble) to let everyone know that they were keeping the award results safe — and social distancing, too.

It was a wry grace note for the show and, maybe, a year that, let's hope, will be like none other — at least in some respects. "I think there may be instances where we use a little bit of what we've learned this year, just to make these things more interesting and add more variety," Bain said. "I mean, we're in the variety business, so the more variety we can provide, the more entertaining these shows become."

Highlights included:

• During the Creative Arts week, HBO and Netflix tied for the most awards with 19 each. Tied for second, with eight wins each, were Disney+ — seven of those for the freshman Star Wars-themed show The Mandalorian — and NBC — led by six for Saturday Night Live. NBC's tally made it the most awarded broadcast network, followed by ABC with five, Fox with three and CBS with two.

• The acclaimed HBO limited series Watchmen scored seven wins, tying it with The Mandalorian for the most Emmys by a single program, followed by SNL's six, five for VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race and four for Amazon Prime Video's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Next, with three each, were CNN's Apollo 11; Adult Swim's Genndy Tartakovky's Primal; Netflix's Cheer (including Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program) and Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (including Outstanding Pre-Recorded Variety Special); and HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Succession. Eight productions garnered two each: Quibi's #FreeRayshawn (the first-ever Emmys for the recently launched short-form streaming platform); the recently ended PopTV comedy Schitt's Creek; HBO’s Euphoria; National Geographic's The Cave; ABC's The Oscars and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times; and Netflix's The Crown and Hollywood.

• RuPaul Charles, host of VH1’s RuPaul's Drag Race, won his fifth consecutive Emmy for hosting the show, breaking the previous record held by Jeff Probst of CBS’s Survivor.

• The week brought two Emmys to Maya Rudolph, who on Saturday night was named Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her turn as Kamala Harris on SNL; two nights earlier, she won in the category of Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance for her portrayal of Connie the Hormone Monstress in the Netflix animated comedy Big Mouth). Speaking to reporters in the virtual media center, Rudolph said it was great "to stop and celebrate and honor each other" during such a difficult year, and that she appreciated the Emmys' determination to keep going, pandemic or not: "I'm impressed with the idea that the show must go on, so if we have to do it in our back yard, we do it in our back yard."

• Ron Cephas Jones (NBC's This Is Us) and daughter Jasmine Cephas Jones (Quibi's #FreeRayShawn) made history by becoming the first father and daughter to win Emmys in the same year (Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, respectively). In the media center, Ron, whose award was his second Emmy for the role of William Hill on the time-shifting family saga, admitted, "Seeing my daughter win is beyond words, and I tear up every time I think about it. It's a parent's dream." Though his own win was "icing on the cake," he acknowledged this pandemic year has been a challenge, saying, "In a year with so many obstacles, it's nice to have something to smile about."

• Eddie Murphy won his first career Emmy when he prevailed as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance hosting Saturday Night Live. In the media center, Murphy noted that the winning episode "was 36 years to the day from when I started on the show," noting that SNL was "where I got started in television," making the win "really, really special."

• The final guest performer award went to Cherry Jones, who captured the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as the matriarch of a wealthy media family in HBO's Succession. Accepting the honor, Jones — whose win marked the third Emmy of her career — characterized her Succession experience as "an artistic high."

Given the unique challenges of 2020, it was no doubt a description that would have been echoed by everyone involved in this year's ceremonies.

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