Emmy Producer Calls Out Seth Rogen's COVID Jokes And Queen's Gambit Creator's Long Speech

seth rogen telling covid jokes on 2021 emmys
(Image credit: cbs press)

This year's 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards was the first in years to see an uptick by way of viewership and demo ratings, although it seemingly still managed to draw the same average amount of complaints from that viewer base. (No complaints about Conan O'Brien, though.) Interestingly enough, certain moments during the broadcast ceremony even drew some pretty direct criticisms from some behind the scenes, namely producers Ian Stewart and Reginald Hudlin. While acknowledging all of the moments that were worth celebrating, Stewart in particular was flared up by both Seth Rogen's first-award presentation comments and by The Queen's Gambit creator Scott Frank's extended thank-you speech.

To quickly recap for those who didn't (or did) watch, Seth Rogen was the first to take the stage after the Emmy's opening rap tribute to Biz Markie, and while he earned a lot of loving comments for his Mr. Velma Dinkley look, the actor and producer immediately made things awkward by addressing the event's return to maskless in-person crowds. Further, he claimed to not have been aware this would be the case, saying the guests and presenters were lied to about what they were coming into. The telecast's producer Ian Stewart basically told Variety those observations were total B.S., and that Rogen was fully aware of everything before taking the stage to present the first award. According to Stewart:

We have worked for months and months to make that a safe space. We’ve worked with all the health authorities. We were signed off by LA County, we came up with a plan with them. Those tables were distanced. Everyone was vaccinated. Everyone was negative tested in that audience. And also he had rehearsed. So he knew exactly what it was. So, I just felt it was an unfortunate misdirect from him. Because it wasn’t just our decision. This is the health authorities’ decision as well, to say that it’s a completely safe environment if you do all those things.

Understandably, Ian Stewart pointed out that the Emmy bosses themselves weren't the only powers that be meant to keep everyone safe that evening, since the L.A. County health dept. wouldn't have allowed the event to be held if there were noteworthy lapses in precautionary tactics. (Indeed, an L.A. County rep also shot down Rogen's safety fears.) Stewart called Rogen's attempts at humor "deeply frustrating," saying it essentially upended all the work that went into keeping the area safe, at least from an optics perspective. (It's obviously also a very positive thing that everyone was indeed safe throughout, regardless of what Rogen thought.) Perhaps if Rogen was less paranoid about proven safety measures, he might not have botched saying Hannah Waddingham's name correctly.

the queen's gambit cast backstage at 2021 emmys

(Image credit: cbs press)

Not that COVID-related comments were the only cringe-inducing moment of the night. (And no, I'm not talking about that painfully outdated sketch about the fly that landed on Mike Pence's head during last year's VP debate.) When Scott Frank's name was announced as the winner of Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, for his work on Netflix's hit The Queen's Gambit, I doubt anyone expected that to be the longest acceptance process of the night, but it certainly was. Partly because Frank took the time to hug each of his competitors on the way to the stage, among others, and partially because his thank-you speech just kept going and going and going. Here's what Ian Stewart had to say about it:

I don’t want to go through that again. It’s a simple equation. These people are professionals. They understand what’s going on, it’s their industry. It’s not a sports awards. So they know what they are doing and the simple fact is, they know there’s only a finite amount of time. I’d love them to be able to speak for half an hour if they wanted to. But we don’t have that time. So it’s a simple equation. If you think that you have to speak for four or five minutes, that means somebody else can’t. It’s just incredibly disrespectful to your fellow nominees.

Scott Frank's DGAF approach to his thank-you offerings might not have been so polarizing had he not been so instantly dismissive of the multiple music cues that started playing to lead him off — he ignored three of those cues — and if his extended speech hadn't come so soon after Debbie Allen's (far more meaningful) acceptance speech for being honored with the Television Academy’s 2021 Governors Award. And while Ian Stewart said they do not cut microphones off as a way of respect, that understanding should go both ways, with winners understanding that time stops for no one.

Could Scott Frank have been the catalyst that leads to a new and improved way of keeping winners' speeches short and to the point? Or will next year's Emmy Awards see more winners being inspired by his soapbox-y ways? We'll just have to wait until next year's telecast to see. In the meantime, be sure to keep up with all the new and returning shows hitting the 2021 TV premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.