By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Television's Emmy Awards usually provide a night of hugs, high-fives and glamorous stars posing on the red carpet, but the coronavirus pandemic will make for a very different virtual-only ceremony on Sunday.
Jimmy Kimmel will host from a stage in the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, telling jokes without the usual packed audience of celebrities. Only production staff and a handful of stars will be allowed in. The red carpet was canceled.
Still, producers said the show, broadcast live on Walt Disney Co's ABC network, aims to provide a celebratory feel for the industry's highest honors.
Hoping to avoid the feel of a stilted Zoom call, staff shipped dozens of movie-quality cameras, lights and microphones to capture live and spontaneous reactions from winners in their living rooms. Producers will monitor 130 live feeds from about 20 cities, including Los Angeles, New York, London, Tel Aviv and Berlin.
"They don't want it to be the 'Zoomies,'" said Michael Schneider, senior editor at Variety. "They want to avoid that look, and have it look like a regular production."
Television audiences for awards shows have slumped in recent years. Last year's Emmys drew a record-low viewership of 6.9 million. Producers hope the unpredictability of this year's format will draw interest, and they admit things might go wrong.
"Think about having a Zoom with your family and how complicated that is, getting grandma to look at the camera and have her whole face on camera," Kimmel quipped in a promotional video. "Multiply that by a million, and that's what we're dealing with here."
A lineup of "special guests" including Oprah Winfrey, Sterling K. Brown and Jason Bateman is slated to appear in some form. Casts of some series will gather together to watch the broadcast.
Producer Reginald Hudlin said the show scrapped parts of the traditional format for presenting awards.
"Some are going to work and it's going to be great," he said. "Some of them might not work. We said 'let's just experiment.'"
Breanne Heldman, senior TV editor for People magazine, believes the unusual setup will yield surprises and a side of celebrities not normally seen on television.
"I think there could end up being some really beautiful, touching and romantic moments with people thanking the people sitting right next to them on the couch," she said. "It will be intimate and honest."
While the lack of a red carpet will disappoint many fans, Heldman expects stars will don notable attire throughout the show. Some may wear masks that match their outfits, which could range from sweatpants or pajamas to high fashion, she said.
"There will be some women who don't want to pass up on this big moment and wear the gown," Heldman said. "And why not? Put on those Jimmy Choos. You don't have to walk around in them."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; additional reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)