Since 2009, the Emmys have handed out the awards in genre groups. Typically all the comedy awards except for series were first, followed by some order of reality, variety and limited series/TV movie in the middle, then drama, before wrapping up with comedy and drama series. There's no TV Academy bylaw or anything stipulating that format be maintained, but Don Mischer, who produced the 2009 show and five others since, kept with it, as did Mark Burnett and Ken Ehrlich, who produced one ceremony each in that time period.
Weiss and Kirshner, however, are ready to dispense with that rigid structure that perhaps sounds better in theory than in practice.
"I think the groups may have worked in the past and it's certainly an interesting option, but we're going to look at this show for this year to stand on its own," Kirshner tells TV Guide. "You have to look at the list of nominees and figure out, OK, what is the best way to present this show?"
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Namely, this year's slate of nominees includes such megastars as Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, who's back in a big way this year after a long break (her husband, Emmy fave David E. Kelley, is also nominated). They're all in the limited series/TV movie races, for Big Little Lies and The Wizard of Lies, respectively, which history tells us, would be awarded in the middle of the show — aka when viewership usually goes down — under the genre group format.
"There are a lot of big stars this year, people known primarily for movies who don't usually do TV, who are nominated and you don't necessarily want to present them back to back," Kirshner says. "There are other categories that are interesting or too close to call that you may not want to present at the beginning just because you have to [because of the genre groups]. You may want to do some of those at the end. We really looked at this class of nominees and what would make sense for the best show."
They did not specifically reveal their rundown plans, but Weiss says their goal is for the show to "keep building" until the final award is given out. "Sometimes you don't get that momentum when you do all the comedy awards, then all the drama awards," he says. "We want to maintain a good flow to the show and keep building that momentum and suspense. You want a good mix. We think we've come up with something that builds and builds."
Though they are first-time Emmy producers, Weiss and Kirshner are no strangers to award shows or live TV. They've produced the last 13 Tonys together and just won an Emmy at the Creative Arts Awards over the weekend for last year's show. Weiss has directed the last six Emmys, and will again this year, and won a Creative Arts Emmy for helming this year's Oscars with that ending. (Kirshner has nine Emmys; Weiss, 13.) "What's funny is I've worked in live television for 25 years, but I will be remembered for this one thing," he quips. "I think in that moment I wanted to show everything. We were finding out as you were. I didn't want to hide, because that would make everyone more suspicious. ... You can prepare for everything, but anything can happen on live television."
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Preparing for the Emmys has been a whole other beast than the Tonys. The biggest difference is the sheer amount of awards to be given out — 27, the most of any show. "There are more performances and fewer awards at the Tonys. It's the opposite here," Kirshner says. "You don't have time for extra performances. There's a lot to get in there, but at the same time keep it moving along and fun and interesting."
A lot of that will depend on Stephen Colbert, who will make his Emmy hosting debut. The trio has worked together before on the Kennedy Center Honors, which Colbert has hosted the past three years, but the producers were unaware of his insatiable TV appetite until now. "He's such a fan of TV. He watches a lot of shows, he knows everything, so all of our meetings from the beginning have been great," Kirshner says. "He's definitely not an outsider coming in. He's a true TV fan."
Weiss and Kirsher plan to utilize every weapon in the Late Show host's bag of tricks. Hosts usually fall into one of two categories: the joke-teller/monologue-r or the song-and-dance person. Colbert is so versatile, he can do it all — one-liners, skits, sing and, of course, get political. "He's best known for the political stuff, but it won't be only that. We've filmed some things. We're going to take advantage of Stephen's talents," Weiss teases, before deadpanning, "He'll swing in on a trapeze."
The duo also has a few surprises up their sleeves, in the presenters. "We're trying to use nominees as presenters and then bring in other presenters," Kirshner says, like Carol Burnett and Norman Lear, who were just added. "There may be a few [we won't announce]."
What they're also keeping tight-lipped about is if they'll engineer some reunions onstage. 9 to 5 stars Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are all nominees, for Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love and Grace and Frankie, respectively, and all three were announced as presenters Wednesday, after our interview with Weiss and Kirshner. And with guest acting winners Melissa McCarthy (Saturday Night Live) and Alexis Bledel (The Handmaid's Tale) also presenting, per tradition, and Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us) nominated, where the Emmys lead, surely a Gilmore Girls reunion will follow, right?
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"No comment," Weiss says with a laugh. "There's a lot that goes into those kinds of things. ... What I'll say is we're conscious of presenter categories and pairings. We want to make them make sense. We're looking at who might be good for what and with which person. We're putting thought into that. That also goes into the whole flow of the show and making it as engaging as possible. We really want to celebrate TV and everyone who works in TV and all the great work this season."
Just don't ask them for their own winner picks or predictions. "We're rooting for the Emmys," Kirsher says. "We want a good one!"
"I think what's great about this year is there's a lot of uncertainty," Weiss adds. "When we did the Tonys last year, it was the Hamilton year. I think we put on a great show, but you knew Hamilton was winning everything. You don't really have that [at the Emmys] this year. There are quite a few categories that are tight and could go any way. That makes it exciting."
Translation: They're happy Game of Thrones is ineligible this year.
"You said it, we didn't!" Weiss says.
The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS.
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