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Emmy Producers on Pulling Off Those Reunions, What Was Cut and How ‘Mama Doris’ Helped Make the Show End Early

Mission accomplished: Not only did the Emmys end on time, but several times throughout the telecast, it was actually ahead of schedule. Variety caught up with Emmys telecast producers Jesse Collins, Dionne Harmon and Jeannae Rouzan-Clay on Tuesday morning — just hours after wrapping the event — and all three felt gratified and relieved to have pulled off an Emmys befitting the kudocast’s 75th anniversary.

“Our intention was to create a love letter to television and to sprinkle in the reunions and the nostalgia throughout,” said Harmon (who, with Collins, immediately flew to Atlanta after the show last night to work on another production). “It was received the way that we hoped it would be, so we’re glad it made everybody happy.”

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Added Collins: “There was a definitely a little anxiety going into it, because we took some swings. It was ambitious and we were like, ‘Is this actually going to work?’ But we felt good about it in the end.”

In a rarity for an awards show — especially one as jam-packed as the Emmys, with 27 awards to hand out and multiple segments devoted to TV history — the Fox broadcast hit its 11 p.m. ET conclusion on the dot. The producers said they relied on host Anthony Anderson to riff at moments to fill the time.

“At one point, we were pretty far under,” Collins said. “But we knew the back end was going to spread a little bit. So, we just kept churning. It was like, ‘OK, Anthony. We’re going to add two lines here and then we’re just take two lines away here.’ Anthony was a great accordion to help us just land the plane.”

Said Harmon: “We have a toolbox. You have different versions of packages and different versions of scripts. There are things you can do to add time and take away time and it’s really just after every act, ‘OK, how far over or under are we? What adjustments do we need to make?’ And you hope to land where we did last night.”

In particular, the show saved quite a bit of time due to the absence of “The Bear” creator and co-showrunner Christopher Storer, who was a last-minute no-show due to Covid. “That was last minute,” Collins said. “They usually tell us who’s not coming, and they didn’t tell us until like an hour before the show.”

Storer won both the comedy writing and comedy directing Emmys, and without his two acceptance speeches, the show sped up. The producers also credit the gimmick they introduced at the beginning of the show with Anderson’s mother, Doris Bowman.

Instead of play-off music, the show had “Mama Doris” sitting in the audience, ready to heckle any winner who took too long with their acceptance speech. And indeed, Bowman stood up and started shouting drama supporting actress winner Jennifer Coolidge down when “The White Lotus” star started going over. “Mama Doris” was used sparingly after that, but apparently the message was received.

“I think very sweet and playful about it,” Collins said. “What happened was, for whatever reason — maybe because they didn’t want to deal with her — people came up there determined and precise and they really made their point. I thought the speeches were amazing throughout the night. Really just emotional and spot on and concise. And that helped us keep pace with the show.”

Also helping keep those speeches short and sweet was the “thank you scroll” at the bottom of the screen, a device first utilized by the Oscars in 2016 and later adopted by the Emmys. “We gave people the opportunity all nominees to send us additional thanks so that they didn’t have to worry about forgetting or taking a long time,” Harmon said. “And  people took advantage of it.”

Allison Wallach, Fox Entertainment’s president of unscripted programming, was pleased as well: “The energy and enthusiasm delivered during last night’s Emmys was the result of an absolute A-game effort across our industry, starting with the incredible collaboration between Fox, the TV Academy, Jesse Collins’ team and our outstanding host Anthony Anderson, and culminating in truly sincere, heartfelt and humorous acceptance speeches, all carefully monitored by the unflappable Mama Doris,” she said in a statement. “To say the show was a fitting 75thanniversary celebration for the Emmys doesn’t quite capture it… between the surprise cast reunions and terrific performances, this night was a fun, unforgettable way to honor our legacy, recognize remarkable achievement and remind the world of the power of television.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – January 15, 2024: L-R: FOX Entertainment CEO Rob Wade, FOX Entertainment President Unscripted Programming Allison Wallach, Emmy Awards Producer Jeannae Rouzan-Claypose, Emmy Awards Producer Jesse Collins and Emmy Awards Producer Dionne Harmon attend the 75TH EMMY® AWARDS airing live from the Peacock Theater at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles on Monday, January 15 (8:00-11:00 PM ET live/5:00-8:00 PM PT live) on FOX. © 2024 Fox Media LLC. Cr: Stewart Cook/FOX
Fox Entertainment CEO Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment President Unscripted Programming Allison Wallach, Emmy Awards Producer Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, Emmy Awards Producer Jesse Collins and Emmy Awards Producer Dionne Harmon (Stewart Cook/Fox)

Here are a few more takeaways from this year’s Emmys:

• Some of the reunion set pieces were actually from the original shows, including elements from “All in the Family” and “Martin.”

“We have an amazing production team, Brian Stonestreet and Alana Billingsley, and screens producer in Drew Findley who helped to bring everything alive and make it really feel 3-D,” Rouzan-Clay said of the reunions sets — which included re-creations of the “Ally McBeal” unisex bathroom, the “Cheers” bar, the “Martin” apartment and more.

“In some cases, we were even able to get the actual set pieces to bring onto that stage to really make it feel authentic and nostalgic,” she said. “It was great for the audience, and also for cast members when they walked onto the set, and it was one of the first times they were in that space with their fellow cast members in years.”

• The “I Love Lucy” chocolate conveyor belt re-creation with Tracee Ellis-Ross and Natasha Lyonne was perhaps the most challenging to pull off, and required much rehearsal.

“It was, OK, how do we get a nine foot conveyor belt onto that stage in the time that we have so that we could do that scene?” Rouzan-Clay said. “That was a big one for us. Natasha and Tracy were fantastic in that… they ate a lot of chocolate [in rehearsals].”

• Connie Britton, previously announced for the “American Horror Story,” was a no-show due to east coast weather than prevented her from making it to LA in time.

• “Ally McBeal” stars Calista Flockhart, Greg Germann, Peter MacNicol and Gil Bellows rehearsed with a choreographer — but came up with that dance routine themselves. “We had brought in a great choreographer, although they choreographed their own routine,” Collins said. “They rehearsed a lot, and it was great, and it showed. That was definitely one of the one of the great moments in the show.”

• Once the producers confirmed Christina Applegate to present an award, they immediately knew they wanted to open the show with her. Not only was Applegate a previous Emmy winner and a nominee this year for “Dead to Me,” but they liked the idea of bringing out someone who has been working in the industry since the age of 1. And this was also a triumphant moment for Applegate, who announced in 2021 that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has mostly been out of the public eye since then.

“She’s one of the best to ever do it,” Collins said. “We’ve seen her grow up on her on television, and she’s been a part of some of the best comedies. So, we were so just honored and thrilled that she would do it. She said yes right away, showed up last night and nailed it.”

• Anderson’s opening tribute to his childhood diet of TV staples like “Good Times,” “The Facts of Life” and “Miami Vice” was originally also going to include “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Gilligan’s Island.” But the producers opted to keep the opener tight. “It was about not doing a traditional monologue,” Collins said. “I think everybody to some extent had a connection to those songs that he chose. We all know those shows, whether we saw them when they were in first-run or we’ve seen them in syndication. So, it was about trying to pull everybody in from the beginning, and then getting right into the show.”

As for bringing in Travis Barker, it was an easy call for the Jesse Collins Entertainment team, who had worked with the Blink-182 drummer in the past. The cornerstone of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” as popularized by “Miami Vice,” is that drum solo, and Harmon said, “we were not going to let that play off a track. We needed to make this a moment, and who can come play these?”

• Charlie Puth’s viral tribute video to Matthew Perry — in which he sang the “Friends” theme “I’ll Be There for You” at a concert — inspired the producers to get him to mash it up with his signature tune “See You Again” for the Emmys “In Memoriam” segment. And Harmon was inspired to bring in the War and Treaty after belatedly falling in love with their albums.

“We were like, we’ve got to find a way to bring all of this together. And when we pitched it to each of them, they were both thrilled,” Harmon said. “They’re fans of each other. They’re all three true musicians. They worked together offline and created the arrangement together. We were all in tears the first time we heard them perform it… It’s crazy how the lyrics of that [‘Friends’ theme] have a completely different context when you slow it down and let it breathe and show these amazing pictures.”

Musical director Rickey Minor and composer/conductor Steve Hackman also assisted in producing the In Memoriam performance, including the transition from “See You Again” into “I’ll Be There for You.” “Charlie Puth, Steve Hackman, Rickey Minor and War and Treaty all made this thing work musically,” Collins said. “I don’t think people realized that they were going into the ‘Friends’ theme immediately.”

• The producers know they had a bit of a hill to climb given the competition for eyeballs on Monday night: A major NFL wild card game between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, and news coverage of the Iowa caucus. “Dreading the ratings,” Harmon said. “Hoping we get lucky. But at least everyone was happy that watched it.”

• The next Emmy telecast, on ABC, is just nine months away. Are the Jesse Collins Entertainment producers up for an encore? “We would love the opportunity to do it again,” Collins said. “We have to just see what happens. But it was a lot of fun and it’s a great show.”

Photo: Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, Jesse Collins and Dionne Harmon (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

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