Must the show go on? Oscar nominees qualify as "essential workers", permitted to attend ceremony

(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

Entertainment industry workers qualify as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. In November, California Governor Gavin Newsom gave the industry his blessing to get back to work in order to try to stop the economic hit it was suffering. The workers, from actors to production crew members, were declared essential workers.

Oscar nominees received a letter this week confirming their essential worker status. The nominee and a guest will be allowed to attend the award ceremony in person. The Academy is putting on a live ceremony this year, setting itself apart from other award ceremonies during the pandemic. The producers are committed to putting on a show without using Zoom, as other shows have done. According to The Wrap, they intend to film the ceremony “as though it’s on a live film set, and rotating winners in and out of courtyards. They have also planned to set up European hubs with live satellite feeds to accommodate international nominees unable to make the trip to Los Angeles.”

Some conditions must be met, according to the letter, in order for people to participate. Anyone traveling into Los Angeles County must quarantine for 10 days before the live show. That includes participating in other Academy-organized activities.

Nominees are not allowed to interact with people outside their household and must still self-quarantine when not doing their essential work. Nominees and guests must also have a minimum of two COVID-19 PCR tests performed by Academy vendors and three tests in the week leading up to the show itself.

“Those involved in the Oscars production, like nominees and their guest, qualify for the essential work purpose waiver, and therefore are permitted to travel to and from the testing center, rehearsals, and Academy-organized activities during the lead up to the Oscars production, including, of course, the award show,” the letter reads. “The organizers of the Oscars are implementing a required quarantine to capture the risk of each person attending the event.”

The letter also includes information for individuals to determine their specific restrictions, as well as a chart outlining the specific dates attendees must arrive by in order to meet quarantine requirements.

The courtyards concept was also used during other award ceremonies this spring. The Grammys, for example, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, used a mix of outdoor audience participation and indoor performances, too. Cafe-style seating arrangements kept audience members separated and controlled the size of the live audience. The most recent award show, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards aired on Easter night and was pre-taped, a virtual ceremony. Some shows have used a few celebrities and artists as presenters during the show but it has been very limited, keeping social distancing in effect.

Here’s the problem – award shows are not as popular as they once were. Neilson ratings are down across the board. This didn’t begin because of the pandemic but the drop in interest from the viewing public continues to be a problem. The pandemic brought a new type of problem, though. Virtual ceremonies are not exciting. Does anyone care what a celebrity’s couch looks like? One of the points of interest for many viewers is the fashion aspect of the night. Women, in particular, tune in to see what everyone is wearing. A lot of nominees have been dressing up for virtual ceremonies but it’s not the same as watching them walk the red carpet.

For much of this century, the Oscars drew 35 million to 45 million viewers, often just behind the Super Bowl. Last year, just before the pandemic was declared, the hostless telecast on ABC was seen by its smallest audience ever, 23.6 million viewers, down 20 percent from the year before.

The pandemic-era Golden Globes a little more than a year later plummeted to 6.9 million viewers, down 64% from last year and barely besting 2008, the year a writer’s strike forced NBC to air a news conference announcing winners. Last year, pre-lockdown, the show had 18.4 million viewers, according to the Nielsen company.

In March, Grammy producers avoided the Zoom awkwardness of other awards shows and staged performances by some of the industry’s biggest stars — to no avail. The CBS telecast reached 9.2 million viewers, both television and streaming, the lowest number on record and a 51% drop from 2020, Nielsen said.

Views are shrugging and asking, who cares? Award shows are usually long and drawn-out events. Who wants to devote three hours or so to something that doesn’t even allow the viewer to see a wide array of celebrities, as television cameras pan a large live audience? It’s a snore. So, it looks like the producers of the Academy Awards show are hoping to receive some decent ratings this year. The way to do that is to try to pretend everything is back to the old normal and put together a live audience at the venue. Thus, entertainment industry ‘essential workers’ will be allowed to jump through a quarantine hoop or two and then get to dress up and go to the show.

On April 25 we will be reminded that we are not all in this together. The 93rd Oscars will air live from both Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and the Dolby Theatre. Does anyone care anymore?