On Sunday, TVs biggest names donned their best outfits and parked themselves in front of cameras to attend this year’s Emmy awards, mostly from their living rooms. The show was a significant departure from the past, with COVID-19 preventing the types of large gatherings that usually constitute awards shows like the Emmys. However, one thing didn’t change—the celebration of the best storytelling on TV. From Euphoria to Schitt’s Creek to Watchmen, the evening awarded the type of bold, challenging projects that have become synonymous with cable programming. Cable TV networks took home 71 awards this year, out of the 129 handed out. This was followed by 34 on streaming and 24 on broadcast.
One of the biggest wins of the night went to Zendaya for her role as troubled teen Rue in the HBO drama Euphoria. At 24, Zendaya set a record as the youngest person to win for lead actress in a drama series, a record that was set last year by Jodie Comer (then age 26) of BBC America’s Killing Eve. Zendaya also became only the second Black woman to receive the award for lead actress in a drama, the first being Viola Davis in 2015. The win for Euphoria comes as more and more shows center diverse characters in meaningful ways, with writers rooms and production staffs becoming more reflective of the world we live in. Euphoria’s story follows a teenager trying to navigate her sexuality, mental illness, trauma, and drug addiction in a world that doesn’t seem conducive to her survival. During her acceptance speech, Zendaya noted, “I just want to say that there is hope in the young people out there,” she said. “And I just want to say to all our peers out there doing the work in the streets: I see you, I admire you, I thank you.”
Another big winner this year was the final season of the refreshingly wholesome comedy Schitt’s Creek, a production on Pop TV from father and son duo Eugene and Dan Levy. The show follows a once-wealthy family who lose it all and relocate to the small town of Schitt’s Creek where they learn to embrace their new situation. Notably, the show features an openly queer character, David (written and acted by creator Dan Levy), whose same-sex romance has been lauded for foregoing the sadness or suffering often associated with queer characters. Though cameras were dispatched around the world, they did most of their broadcasting from Toronto early in the night as Schitt’s Creek swept the comedy categories, taking home seven Emmy awards on Sunday night for a total of nine statues total (when combined with last week’s Creative Arts Emmys) including wins for both lead actors and both supporting actors. The victories set a record as the first comedy series to win all four acting awards and Best Comedy in the same night.
But no program came into the night with more nominations (26) than the hit HBO limited series Watchmen, which uses sci-fi to explore the brutal reality of racism and racist violence in the United States. The series made headlines when its opening scene depicted the violent 1921 Tulsa Massacre, an event many viewers said they were unaware of before the premiere. Showrunner Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of the 1986 graphic novel took huge risks in foregoing a traditional adaptation and instead re-imagined the novel’s cold-war narrative as a uniquely American story. HBO’s risk paid off as the show took home awards for outstanding limited series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series.
The 2020 Emmy Awards might have looked different, but the celebration of bold, challenging projects tied the evening together and served as reminder of the power in storytelling. With the fall season here and many productions having to take new tactics due to COVID-19, cable TV networks continue to lead the way with producing creative and clever shows.