Entertainment

TV viewers are getting really sick of those ‘pandemic specials’

Five months into the coronavirus pandemic, and Television Academy voters already seem to be over the plethora of remotely produced content created during, and in response to, the new social-distancing health and safety guidelines. Only one such program, Food Network’s “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook: Lunch Break and Pasta Night,” scored a nomination at the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

“I think, ultimately, it was determined by human psychology: people wanted to watch something that was opposite of the darkness we’re living in,” says awards consultant Richard Licata of Licata & Co.

“Amy Schumer Learns to Cook,” which features the titular comedian and her husband, chef Chris Fischer, preparing meals out of whatever they happen to have in their kitchen (or for which they can forage from their neighbors’ gardens), broke into the unstructured reality program race this year. While not directly commenting on the progress (or lack thereof) of the American government to stop the spread of the virus, it was a show born of the moment that responded to the needs of its viewers. Although it leaned into its amateur setup and shooting style, it was shot with multiple cameras and edited together professionally to more closely resemble a quote-unquote regular production.

Other notable projects to come out of the pandemic followed the visual style of video meetings instead, and were predominantly submitted into the variety special (pre-recorded) category. These included “A Parks and Recreation Special,” “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” “The Greatest #StayAtHome Videos,” “Home-fest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special,” “iHeart Living Room Concert for America” and “Saturday Night Seder.”

With so many people staying glued to the news, notes Licata, voters may not have wanted to hear more about the pandemic from their entertainment. This resulted in the variety special (pre-recorded) category being dominated by Netflix specials including standup comedy shows from Dave Chappelle (“Sticks & Stones”), Hannah Gadsby (“Douglas”) and Jerry Seinfeld (“23 Hours to Kill”), as well as “John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch.” The final nominee in that category was another from Chappelle: “The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor” from PBS.

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