How Did the 2020 Emmys Work? Behind the Scenes of the Strangest Award Show Ever

After the success of the 2020 Emmys Jimmy Kimmel Live co-head writer Molly McNearney offered a few behind-the-scenes tidbits in a new interview.

By Lauren Piester Sep 21, 2020 8:00 PMTags
Watch: Ramy Youssef Shows What Happens When You Lose the Emmy

It's the day after the Emmys and this year, more than any year before, we still have so many questions. 

The coronavirus pandemic forced the ceremony to go virtual this year, with most nominees watching and appearing from their homes or at least from some remote location. More than 130 camera set ups were sent out around the world to wherever celebs happened to be located—Unorthodox's Shira Haas tuned in from Tel Aviv—and somehow actual statues were handed out to the winners no matter their location. Some nominees still appeared in the Staples Center with host Jimmy Kimmel—and somehow the show went off almost completely without a hitch. 

In fact, it could be said that the only hitch involved Jennifer Aniston and a fire that wouldn't go out, which is pretty good, considering! We expected disaster (and the Emmys producers did too), but what we ended up with was a fun, fascinating show that almost felt like a new normal we wouldn't mind getting used to—even if we are still having trouble figuring out how the show even worked. 

Luckily, Jimmy Kimmel Live co-head writer (and Kimmel's wife) Molly McNearney answered many of those questions in an interview with Variety. Scroll down to see many of our burning questions answered!

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How did that audience during the monologue feel so real? 

If you're as fashion-obsessed as we are, you likely noticed immediately that all the celebs were wearing looks from years past. But if you're not, it might have taken a second to fully understand that the audience footage that played during Kimmel's opening monologue was not live. In fact, it was carefully chosen and edited together to feel as real possible—with some input from the man who knows exactly what it sounds like to have people laugh at his jokes. 

"Jimmy had the idea that he should be a cutaway at the end, and he's in the audience himself," McNearney said. "They've been working on that for weeks now. And pulling all those clips and making sure it sounded right. Even Jimmy was like, ‘Wait, typically when I deliver a joke, it takes one second. And then people laugh.' So he paid such close attention to the detail of the timing on the applause. He was like, 'People don't clap immediately, you can feel the roll of a joke over a crowd.' And so thankfully, we had some great editors that helped make that sound realistic."


Was that fire supposed to not go out? 

Before Kimmel and Aniston presented the first award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, they made a show of sanitizing the envelope. It got sprayed down with Lysol then thrown in a traschan where where it was lit on fire. Aniston then tried to extinguish it, but the problem came when the fire refused to go out after multiple attempts at extinguishing it. There was even a moment when neither Aniston nor Kimmel realized the fire was still going. 

McNearney called the moment "very scary." 

"That was not the way it was supposed to go," she said. "That extinguisher was supposed to extinguish the first time and it didn't. I have to tell you that I loved watching it from the sideline, I was there knowing that neither of those two, Jen or Jimmy, had any idea that fire was crawling up that third time was pretty exciting for us."

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She even had to physically restrain some producers from rushing out on stage. "I may have grabbed some arms to hold them back," she said. "Which is kind of crazy, 'Let my husband burn!' But I didn't want people rushing out. I knew that they would figure it out. I knew they would get that fire out. And of course they did. And I didn't want to ruin it. America doesn't want to see us, they want to see those two."

McNearney said Catherine O'Hara, who ended up winning that first award, will be getting the blackened envelope as a gift: "It survived, and you can still see her name on there!"


Did people in hazmat suits and tuxedos really have Emmy statues for every nominee? 

Yes! And honestly it's our favorite thing. After he lost his two possible awards, Ramy Youssef posted a video of a person in a tuxedoed hazmat suit holding and Emmy waving goodbye. McNearney said that not only did they have those trophy presenters at the doors of as many nominees as possible, but the presenters also didn't have a clue if they were holding a winning Emmy. 

"I don't know how the hell they pulled that off," she said. "It was important to us that people got to hold the statue. They have this big night. And we didn't want to just say we're going to drop in the mail for you months from now. So we had all these Emmys, delivered by people in hazmat suits, standing by, and they were outside all of those nominees' homes or hotel rooms. And then one minute before, they learned if they had the winning Emmy on them, and then brought it into the room and delivered it to the winner. But every nominee had someone in a hazmat suit stalking their house. Those wonderful, hardworking people in hazmat suits had no idea they were at the winner's house or not until right before it was announced."

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How did those pre-taped presenters work? 

David Letterman and a handful of frontline workers appeared in the show to present awards but their segments were clearly pre-taped. They recorded the name of each winner and then only the winner's name actually aired. That's also how it works on RuPaul's Drag Race

Letterman was a special present for Kimmel. "Jimmy loves David Letterman and for him to not only be part of the show but to present the same category that Jimmy was nominated in, I think that that would be enough for Jimmy forever," McNearney said. 


Was that the real Stanley Cup?

It was indeed. Since the very Canadian Schitt's Creek was nominated for every award in the comedy category, producers had the actual Stanley Cup on standby just for a joke.  

"That was Jimmy's idea, he thought, ‘if Canada's going to take all our awards, let's flaunt the award we know they all really want—which is the Stanley Cup.' So we had it on standby," McNearney said. "And then it was tricky for us, when do we bring up the Stanley Cup? Are they gonna win this one or the next one? It was a gamble. Because if they hadn't won best comedy, then we would have just had a sad Stanley Cup in the wings that would have never brought out on camera."

Fortunately for the Stanley Cup, it was a total Schitt's Creek sweep


How did the Friends reunion come about? And why was Jason Bateman there?

Aniston is not technically IRL roommates with Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow, but kinda! They were already going to be in her house, so Aniston asked if they could join the party. 

"Those women have been in a pod for a long time," McNearney said of the former Friends costars. "And they've been testing every day. We asked Jennifer Aniston to be a part of it. She said, ‘You know, Courtney and Lisa are going to be coming over and we'd love to all be a part of it.' And we were very excited about that. And then [Jason] Bateman, his wife is one of the producers on The Morning Show, and she was over there, so Bateman was over with his wife."

We're going to need to hear more about this pod consisting of Rachel, Monica and Phoebe ASAP, please and thank you. 

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How strict were the COVID protocols? 

Crazy strict. McNearney couldn't even take notes without proper sanitization. 

"I remember at one point I'm needing a pen. Someone said, 'You have to get a sanitized one,'" she told Variety. "And I had to wait to get a sanitized pen so I can write notes. We couldn't have snacks in the writers' room. It wasn't COVID friendly. It was like the most stripped-down production I've ever been a part of. It was like a ghost town. There were very few people backstage. And the celebrities that did show up had to be scraped down and tested and had a plastic shield over them. It was pretty sad, actually. We did the best that we could."

Considering how "sad" that does sound, everybody looked real good! 


Why the alpaca? 

Because if they couldn't bring on another celeb to banter with Randall Park due to COVID restrictions, why not bring on an alpaca? 

As McNearney admitted, "We all fell in love with the alpaca." 


For a full recap of the 75th Emmy Awards, check out E! Online's Emmys homepage here.