Creative Sensemaker

two girls leaning their heads together

The latest instalment of Creative Sensemaker, a cultural series by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona    Above image: Euphoria    Friday 28 August, 2020   Long read

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media. It’s decision time for this year’s Emmy Awards: the 25,000 members of the US Television Academy have until 10pm (Pacific Time) on 31 August to cast their votes in more than 110 categories (full list of nominees here).

And, of course, no red carpet, competitive celebrity couture or stage spectaculars this year. Instead, the main winners of the 72nd annual Emmys will be announced in a virtual ceremony on 20 September hosted by Jimmy Kimmel at the Staples Center in Los Angeles – but without an audience.

The victors will be filmed remotely receiving their statuettes. And everyone else? ‘If you want to be in your sweats on your sofa that’s also fine,’ according to show producer Ian Stewart. ‘It will be much more casual, much more fun, as we’re more in it together. It will go where it goes. We hope really well, but I can’t sit here and say that it’s going to go 100% perfectly, because no one’s ever done it before.’

The top contenders:

The big winner already is Netflix, which has a haul of 160 nominations – ahead of any network or rival streaming service.

HBO’s superb Watchmen – inspired by the graphic novel of 1987 and 2009 movie, but with an ingeniously contemporary take involving alternative history and racial justice – leads the pack with 26 nominations.

In the drama categories, Netflix’s Ozark and HBO’s Murdoch family-inspired Succession have 18 nominations each.

Disney+ celebrated its launch year with 15 nominations for the Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian – well ahead of rival newcomer Apple TV+ and its Jennifer Aniston flagship, The Morning Show.

The sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek – a big lockdown favourite – was rewarded with 15 nominations.

The hardest-fought category looks set to be Best Actress in a Drama, with every nominee a potential winner: Zendaya (Euphoria), Olivia Colman (The Crown), Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Jodie Comer (ditto), Jennifer Aniston (The Morning Show) and Laura Linney (Ozark).
two basketball players laughing on a couch
The Last Dance
The Emmys have certainly come a long way since 1949, when the first awards (only six) were handed over at the Hollywood Athletic Club: the winners included a ventriloquist – 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale with her puppet, Judy Splinters. Rather obscurely, the name ‘Emmy’ is a variant on the original suggestion of ‘Immy’, inspired, would you believe it, by an item of 1940s TV tech, ‘the image-orthicon tube’.
The big change came in 1988 when cable TV shows were made eligible for nomination. Since then the awards have grown and grown, as the streaming giants have muscled their way to ever-greater prominence. And the 2020 ceremony is particularly special.

Why? Because this was the year, more than any other, of home watching – as cinemas around the world shut up shop during lockdown and hundreds of millions filled the hours bingeing on prestige TV series. How many Zoom calls ended with questions like: ‘Which season of Ozark have you got to?’ or ‘Whose side are you on in Tiger King?’

One gripe: you would be hard pressed to name a better TV experience this year than The Last Dance, Jason Hehir’s epic account of Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. McMillions, directed by Brian Lazarte and James Lee Hernandez, explored the astonishing McDonald's Monopoly scam. Ken Burns, the greatest living documentary maker, also had a terrific year with his eight-episode PBS series, Country Music

But none of these fantastic programmes will feature on the big night, as documentaries are quietly relegated to the series of Emmy sub-ceremonies on separate evenings gathered under the umbrella of ‘Creative Arts’ (as opposed to the main ‘Primetime’ categories on 20 September). Time for the Television Academy to recognise that we are living through a golden age of documentary making and give the genre its due.

Here are our weekly recommendations:
two book covers.
a book cover.


The Discomfort Of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld 
Awarded the International Booker Prize on Thursday, this dark and compelling debut novel explores the pain of a 10-year-old girl living in a devout religious household after her brother dies. At 29, Rijneveld – whose preferred pronouns are they/ them – is the youngest winner of the International Booker.

Elitism: A Progressive Defence by Eliane Glaser 
A seriously smart and audacious examination of what exactly we mean by ‘elites’, and whether the rhetoric of the populist Right has encouraged the wrong ones to be demonised. 

“They Can’t Kill Us All”: The Story Of Black Lives Matter by Wesley Lowery 
Still essential reading three years after its original pu