Awards HQ Aug. 19 BONUS: The Handmaids Tale Producer Warren Littlefield on How It Reflects Chilling Real Life; Steven Canals TV Picks; Pizza So Free

Greetings from Variety Awards Headquarters! Today is Aug. 19, 2021, which means final-round voting starts TODAY; it’s also 11 days until final voting ends on Aug. 30; and 31 days until the Primetime Emmys telecast on Sept. 19.

And here we are, after months of preparation, strategy and campaigning, it all comes down to the voting.

Of course, I’m talking about the official USA Mullet Champs Men’s Open Division, which opens its voting today through Aug. 29 to crown the most luxurious business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back mullet in all the land. Winner receives $2500, plus a Manscaped.com Trophy, Pit Vipers, Manscaped.com gear and Mullet Champ gear. Vote here and crown the next Billy Ray Cyrus.

Wait. Sorry.

We’re talking Emmys here, and indeed, phase two voting for that contest gets underway today as well! There may be fewer mullets, but we’ve got plenty of moustaches (“Ted Lasso” and “Reno 911,” looking at you) to go around.

Like I mentioned earlier this week, there’s a lot of strategizing and contingency plans rolling out as the COVID-19 delta variant is causing cases to go on the rise, and some to rethink their in-person events. The latest casualty is the Hollywood Critics Assn. TV awards, which had been scheduled for this weekend but now have been pushed a week, and moved virtually.

Plenty of Emmy FYC pop-ups are still happening, and if you’re hungry, this is your week. I am sure to see you at Gino’s East for some Chicago pizza courtesy Nat Geo and “City So Real.” More on that and other events below.

Now, you have a few assignments this weekend: Make sure to send your ballots in for this ridiculous, time waster of a California governor recall election; and also check out Variety’s loads of Emmy content, including our Emmy Extra editions, to fully immerse yourself in the categories before voting! And now, let’s get going!

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Producer Warren Littlefield on the Chilling Parallels to What’s Happening in Afghanistan — and Even Here, Right Now, in the U.S.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has become a common reference in popular culture to describe the real-life march toward authoritarian law and fascist rule, particularly when it comes to the oppression of women. Just as we’ve seen rights stripped away here in the United States — TODAY, literally, we saw a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a Texas law banning a common form of abortion — it’s becoming darker around the world.

And of course, what is currently happening in Afghanistan, as the Taliban take power, is terrifying for anyone living in that country, and particularly women there.

Since I cover TV for a living, of course, I can’t help but again think of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the fact that as terrible as some of the events on that show are, the producers often remind us that they hold back on depicting real-life horrors. After all, it’s still an entertainment program.

Nonetheless, I asked executive producer Warren Littlefield, who is always gracious in sharing his time with us, to give some of his thoughts of what’s happening in Afghanistan and around the world, and how “The Handmaid’s Tale” continues to warn us of what happens when we lose our fragile democracy and social contract to quite simply respect one another.

He writes:

Margaret Atwood wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” more than 35 years ago on a rented typewriter in a fraught and divided Berlin. She drew inspiration from real-life movements such as the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Puritans, and the 1980s American religious right to create and inform her speculative fiction. Her inspiration and her genius influence everything that we’ve done and will do, from Bruce Miller’s first episode through season four and until our series concludes.

Many have asked how “The Handmaid’s Tale” manages to reflect the world’s tragedies with such timely and poignant accuracy. Our writers engage with experts, including UN consultants, trauma therapists, terrorism specialists, and national security advisors, who illuminate the brutal histories and practices of authoritarian regimes and, in turn, inform our show’s narrative choices. Yet, as EP and writer Yahlin Chang (Emmy-nominated for episode 407) is quick to point out, once you’ve looked at ISIS and the Taliban’s policies toward women and young girls, much of what you learn is too dark for even “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

From public executions in Fenway Park during season two to children torn away from their families at the border during season three, the show has tried to present and honor the trauma that real people around the world endure. Season four moves the journey forward: at long last, June attains freedom. That victory, though, is bittersweet: June is lucky enough to make it to Canada as a refugee via boat. As she departs the contested Chicago harbor, others hurl themselves in desperation after her ship; a horrifying premonition of things happening around the world right now. The rest of the season is as honest a portrayal of a refugee’s experience in an asylum country as we could create.

Though June’s body is free, Gilead still torments her mind. Survivor’s guilt, strength, resilience, and rage all battle for dominance every waking moment of her life as a “free woman.”

At a time when even in the US, a woman’s right to make choices for her own body seems ever more tenuous, with nearly 600 abortion restrictions introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone and the fate of Roe v. Wade looming with the Supreme Court this fall, we have a decision to make about what kind of country we want to be. Will we be compassionate and protect all or will we go down the road to a Gilead-like future?

At “The Handmaid’s Tale,” if we can provide compelling context and empathy for the real life stories that we cannot escape, then we’ve done our job.

Awards Circuit Column: ‘The Boys’ Nominations Proves That the Right FYC Campaign Can Help a Show’s Emmy Chances

“The Boys” could have been written off as another superhero show without a chance of Emmy dreams. But credit the team at Amazon for starting to plant the idea that it was worthy of consideration early on.

The show was front and center in Amazon’s campaigns alongside more obvious Emmy fodder, including “The Underground Railroad” and “Small Axe.” There were the normal trade print and digital ads, panels, media availabilities and outdoor signage.

But here’s a textbook case in how campaigning for the right show at the right time can work. Amazon put an extra effort into other elements for its “The Boys” FYC, from a weekly podcast devoted to the show, to elaborate billboards facing each other (at Venice and La Cienega) featuring Homelander (Antony Starr) on one billboard, drilling his laser eyes into Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) on the other.

The campaign led up to the three-day experiential event dubbed “Planet Vought.” In early June, Amazon took over the parking lot at the Hollywood Palladium, fed visitors and sent them through a 40-minute ride that showcased production elements related to “The Boys,” as well as storylines and characters from the show. Around 300 cars of TV Academy voters participated.

For Amazon, it was a nod to the kind of experiential Emmy FYC event that it usually does in person, at the Hollywood Athletic Club, but hasn’t been able to continue because of COVID-19.

Read the full column here.

TV PICKS: ‘Pose’ Showrunner Steven Canals Reveals His Guilty Pleasure, Desert Island Show and More

We asked Steven Canals, Emmy nominated for outstanding drama (“Pose”), as well as outstanding writing and outstanding directing for the series finale, to share his TV guilty TV pleasure (Can be of all time, or currently. Cheesy reality show? Campy sitcom? Obscure public access show? Anything applies!); “deep cut” (the show he recommends that isn’t as well known, past or present); and “show mate” (the show that, if you were stuck on a desert island with only one DVD, you’d choose to be the most important/most influential/best TV show in your life). Here are her answers:

Guilty TV Pleasure: My guilty TV pleasure is REALITY TV (especially reality competition)!! It started with ‘The Real World’ & ‘Road Rules’ in the 90s. Adolescent Steven, growing up in the Bronx, couldn’t get enough of those shows. I think I responded so strongly to them because they gave me a peek into what life had the potential to be if I left NY. As a storyteller I also loved learning about how others live. And that fascination continues with MTV’s ‘The Challenge,’ ‘The Real Housewives of (any city)’, ‘The Voice,’ ‘Top Chef,’ ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘The Great British Baking Show.’

Deep Cut: Hmm… I’m not sure it’s considered a deep cut since it’s known, but the show I often find myself revisiting (and always recommend folks watch it if they haven’t) is ‘Felicity.’ I was a college student at the time it aired and I related to so many of the themes explored. I also love Keri Russell and I got to tell her what her work meant to me when we met at the Golden Globes the year ‘Pose’ was nominated. (Spoiler: she was as lovely as you’d expect and appreciated my love for her early work).

Show Mate: This is an IMPOSSIBLE question to answer. What I want to watch is often dictated by my mood. If I’m needing TV comfort food I turn to ‘Friends’ or ‘Saved By The Bell: The College Years’ (yes, ‘The College Years’). If I want emotional catharsis I look to ‘ER.’ Frights? The original ‘Twilight Zone.’ If I want to be challenged? ‘Lost.’ Engrossed by fantasy? ‘Game of Thrones.’ But if I had to pick one show that accomplishes all of that and more, I’d have to say ‘Six Feet Under.’ A brilliant, honest, show that rewards its audience with new insights every subsequent viewing.

Awards Circuit Podcast: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Judge Michelle Visage on Acting Plans and Why She’s Taking So Long to Get Back Into Music

Before Michelle Visage became known as a producer and judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she was a singer — with quite a few hits under her belt. As one-third of the late 1980s/early 1990s group Seduction, she hit the top 40 four times, and also performed on hits for other artists such as TKA and the S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. When Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast asked Visage about a solo album, she admitted, “I was thinking about it today. ‘What am I waiting for?’ I think I’m stopping myself and talking myself out of it. I’m my own worst enemy.”

Emmy-nominated for “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Visage is also eager to expand her roles as an actor, and wants to spend the next year breaking into scripted. “That acting bug is something that lives inside of me,” she said. “And this year, after the pandemic, and it was the first time that I consciously said out loud to my husband, ‘I want to spend the next year focusing on breaking into scripted.’”

Variety’s Jazz Tangcay caught up with Visage to discuss how “Drag Race” keeps things fresh, plus her acting plans and solo album. They also talk about her documentary “Explant,” and sharing her story about her breast implant removal. Listen below!

Also on this episode of the Awards Circuit Podcast, “The Flight Attendant” star and executive producer Kaley Cuoco. And Variety serior editor Diane Garrett joins the roundtable to discuss this year’s Emmy nominations in the limited series acting categories.

Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

Pizza So Real: Nat Geo Partners With Gino’s East for a Chicago-Themed ‘City So Real’ FYC Freebie

Having spent my college years in Chicago (Northwestern, thanks for asking), I will climb mountains for a deep dish Chicago pie. Gino’s East opened a location last year in Sherman Oaks, and it definitely fits the bill. (The NU Club of Los Angeles is even planning to hold its Wildcats football viewing parties there.)

To promote Steve James‘ Nat Geo docuseries “City So Real,” NatGeo is inviting TV Academy members to grab a free pizza, soft drink and goodie bag on either Saturday or Sunday. The FYC event is tied to “City So Real’s” two Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.

On Saturday or Sunday, August 21-22, call in a carry out order for a FREE Large Chicago-Style Deep Dish or Tavern Style Thin Crust (and soft drinks). You’ll also receive that Nat Geo FYC goodie bag. GINO’S PIZZA EAST is located at 12924 Riverside Dr. in Sherman Oaks.

COVID Events Update: Hollywood Critics Association, Gracie Awards Become Latest to Cancel In-Person Events; Downsized Emmys Still On

The Hollywood Critics Assn. has scrapped its in-person HCA TV Awards, and will instead move the first-ever ceremony to a virtual event a week later.

HCA chairman Scott Menzel said the decision was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County and the US. Instead, the show will stream on the HCA’s official YouTube channel at 5 p.m. on Aug. 29.

“We spent the last two weeks going back and forth, seeing if the cases went down, and it’s just not going,” Menzel said. “Everything just seems to be on an upward tick. The most important thing for any event like this is that we have to look at the people in attendance and we decided this morning. I know that this seems like a last minute decision but given the numbers and how badly it’s been impacting the industry, this just seemed like the best route to go.”

The HCA TV Awards joins a growing number of events that have been forced to rethink their plans in the light of the rise in COVID-19 cases. The African American Film Critics Association also recently scrapped its planned in-person ceremony for the 3rd annual AAFCA TV Honors, and will instead now take place as a virtual event.

The AAFCA TV Honors virtual ceremony takes place on Saturday, Aug. 21 at 4 p.m. PT. The show had been previously slated for the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, with a 50 percent audience capacity.

And the 46th annual Gracie Awards Gala, originally scheduled for Monday, September 27, is being moved to a fully virtual celebration.

“Gracie winners are responsible for creating and telling the important stories of the most compelling content in our history,” said Becky Brooks, President, Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. “We were informed, enlightened, and entertained by women in media across all platforms. Our focus remains celebrating this incredible group of women who have demonstrated their commitment to sharing emotionally charged, timely, and compelling content. While our goal was to be in person in September, we are thrilled to bring our winners to the world.”

Now, all eyes continue to be on the Television Academy, which is still planning a limited in-person Emmys — but last week it, too, announced plans to move both the Primetime and Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies outdoors, on the Event Deck at L.A. Live, next to the Microsoft Theater.

As part of last week’s announcement, the org also revealed that the guest list, which had already been limited to vaccinated nominees, would further be shrunk to include just four tickets per nominated teams of three or more.

NBC Mega Billboard Touts ‘Saturday Night Live’ Emmy Hopes

Disney Plus’ ‘WandaVision’ Goes Retro with a TV Dinner FYC Package

Time to eat like it’s 1959! See, toldja (credit Nikki Finke) you’re gonna be eating a lot this weekend. Disney Plus’ “WandaVision,” of course, spoofed the sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Bewitched” (as well as later shows like “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Modern Family”), so it’s only fitting that the show send out a TV dinner-style plate reminiscent of the era.

Hell, as a 1980s kid I still remember TV dinners as well! When did those things go away? I mean, they were terrible, so I’m fine with it. These mailers at least appear to be a more appetizing, elevated version of those classic TV dinners, including steak, mashed potatoes and a brownie. Disney Plus partnered with Fooji for the promotion.

Fooji is also promoting a #DinnerWithWandaVision sweepstakes – in which winners in the L.A. area will also receive one of the TV dinners.

Also, earlier today, Twitter TV held a Twitter Spaces (a live audio conversation) interview with the stars and producer of “WandaVision,” marking the first Spaces that Twitter TV has hosted.

Wait, Is That AFC Richmond Player Dani Rojas on the Mound at a Dodgers Game?

Netflix Showcases the Costume Designs of ‘The Crown’ in Neuehouse Hollywood Exhibit

Continuing through Aug. 22, Netflix is holding exhibition for “The Crown” at Neuehouse in Hollywood. Costumes created by Emmy-nominated costume designer Amy Roberts include the wedding dress worn by Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer will be on display along with costumes worn by Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at Neuehouse.

Some more shots:

Variety Virtual TV Fest: Watch Comedy, Drama and Limited Emmy Nominees Chat and Gossip About Their Shows and Others

This week’s Variety Virtual TV Fest included several fun conversations, and look at these lineups! Click on the photos or the links below to watch, starting with:

Outstanding Limited / Anthology Series
Paapa Essiedu (Supporting Actor, “Kwame” – I May Destroy You)
Barry Jenkins (Director and Showrunner – The Underground Railroad)
Anya Taylor Joy (Lead Actress, “Beth Harmon” – The Queen’s Gambit)
Elizabeth Olsen (Lead Actress, “Wanda Maximoff / The Scarlet Witch” – WandaVision)
Kate Winslet (Executive Producer and Lead Actress, “Mare Sheehan” – Mare of Easttown)

Outstanding Comedy Series
Courtney Lilly (Director, Showrunner, and Executive Producer – Black-ish)
William Zabka (Co-Executive Producer and Actor, “Johnny Lawrence”- Cobra Kai)
Rosie Perez (Supporting Actress, “Megan Briscoe” – The Flight Attendant)
Hannah Einbinder (Supporting Actress, “Ava” – Hacks)
Paul Reiser (Supporting Actor, “Martin Schneider” – The Kominsky Method)
Debbie Liebling (Executive Producer – PEN15)
Hannah Waddingham (Supporting Actress, “Rebecca Welton” – Ted Lasso)

Outstanding Drama Series
Eric Kripke (Showrunner, Executive Producer, and Writer – The Boys)
Tobias Menzies (Supporting Actor – Prince Phillip – The Crown)
Aunjanue Ellis (Supporting Actress – Hippolyta Freeman – Lovecraft Country)
Steven Canals (Creator, EP – Pose)
Chris Sullivan (Supporting Actor – Toby Damon – This is Us)
Ann Dowd (Supporting Actress – Aunt Lydia – The Handmaid’s Tale)

Clayton Davis’ Emmy Predictions: Competition Program

This week, we’re looking at the latest predictions from Variety’s Clayton Davis in the competition series race. He writes:

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has won an incredible 19 Emmys overall in its tenure thus far, including three consecutively in this category. Though it’s down in its nomination tally this year, going from 11 to nine, that shouldn’t be cause to count out our favorite fashion and culture competition all rolled into one. The incumbent is likely to snatch another trophy.

Once a dominating force at the Emmys, with 10 wins in this category alone, the broadcast adventure-race staple made its return to the ballot after sitting out last year’s eligibility window. This time “The Amazing Race” also picked up mentions for editing, cinematography and directing, which gives it a bit of a renewed boost of visibility. However, the Academy occasionally changes in this category, but even so a return to the winners’ circle would be a big surprise.

The third time could be the charm for the streaming baking-comedy series. The visibility of “Nailed It” only increased (last year’s nom for host Nicole Byer was history-making and she’s being celebrated in that category again now), and the Television Academy has been known to shake up this race from time to time. The hard part is that the incumbent winner (for the past three years!) “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is still on the air and going strong. So, this one may need to bake a little longer before seeing gold.

This cable cooking series only won this category once (in 2010), though there have arguably been a few close calls in other years. (It has been a consistent ballot presence since 2007.) This year, “Top Chef” picked up five nominations in total, including one for its now trio of hosts. Overdue narratives are powerful to play, but enough voters must feel like they’re making up for a past snub for it to make a difference.

The broadcast singing competition hasn’t won this race since 2017 (though it has been a ballot staple since 2012), and there are quite a few voters that feel it has a ballot spot that should have gone to “The Masked Singer” or “Legendary” instead. With that said, though, “The Voice” still managed an impressive seven overall noms, one of which was for directing for the anniversary season’s premiere. It’s not impossible for this fourtime category champion to be crowned again, but it may be an uphill battle to get enough chairs to turn around this time.

2021 EMMYS: COMPETITION SERIES

1 “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)
2 “Nailed It” (Netflix)
3 “Top Chef” (Bravo)
4 “The Amazing Race” (CBS)
5 “The Voice” (NBC)

To see all of Clayton’s latest predictions, of all the categories, in one place, visit  THE EMMYS COLLECTIVE. Visit each individual category, according to the awards show from THE EMMYS HUB.

Send Me Your Questions, Comments and More!

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