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Virtual Emmys address chaotic year for American TV and society

The Emmy Awards Sunday night addressed the major U.S. issues this year — including the protests on systemic racism and police brutality, the wildfires engulfing parts of the West Coast, the census, the pandemic, essential works and the election.

Why it matters: Award shows have always addressed wider cultural issues, but this year — amid unprecedented stress and uncertainty — that trend has accelerated.

Details: The 72nd awards opened with host Jimmy Kimmel acknowledging that few events in the virtual world ever go as planned.

  • In his opening monologue, Kimmel walked up to a floor-to-ceiling screen featuring hundreds of live feeds from the homes of Emmys nominees, and remarked "What could possibly go right?"

Award presenters had scripted moments designed to acknowledged different issues.

  • Jennifer Aniston put out a live fire of an envelope burning on stage, paying tryibute to the difficult job of firefighters trying to contain the wildfires spreading in the Pacific NorthWest.
  • Black-ish actress Tracee Ellis Ross told viewers to "Stay safe, make a plan for voting, and goodnight!" while announcing an award at the top of the show.
  • Actor Jason Sudeikis was interrupted during his on-stage award announcement by a nurse administering a COVID test through his nose. .

The Canadian drama, Schitt's Creek, was awarded all four of the top acting Emmys, for the first time in the show's 72-year history, proving the power of comedy during a distressing year for Americans.

  • The show, which is available to Americans on Netflix, also swept all 7 comedy categories.

The big picture: The show also paid tribute to reckoning throughout America and Hollywood around systemic racism. Black women were frequently acknowledged throughout the night.

  • Awards recipients like Regina King and Uzo Aduba wore memorabilia commemorating the late death of Breonna Taylor, the young Black woman who was fatally shot by police officers in Louisville this summer, in their virtual acceptance speeches.
  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who stars in HBO's Watchemn, dedicated his Emmy to "all the black women in my life."

What's next: Like most award shows, the Emmys has seen ratings decline for the past few years, as more people get rid of their satellite and cable television subscriptions. The pandemic is expected to exacerbate that trend. Preliminary ratings will be out Monday.

Go deeper: The full list of 2020 Emmy Awards winners

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