No red carpet, no star-studded audience and no "Game of Thrones" -- this year's Emmys honoring the best in television promise to be radically different as producers scramble to create Hollywood's first major pandemic-era awards show.

The coronavirus has turned Tinseltown upside down, bringing productions to a halt even as stay-at-home orders around the world send binge-watching through the roof.

Now late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel will host the 72nd Emmys live on Sunday from an empty theatre in Los Angeles -- which remains under strict lockdown -- with winners beaming in from the safety of their homes due to Covid-19.

2020 Emmy Awards
Producers of the Emmys, honouring the best in television, are scrambling to stage the awards show in the age of coronavirus. Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

Adding to the unpredictability on a night of firsts, 130-odd nominees who were sent cameras to hook up in their own living rooms have been encouraged to get creative with their speeches (and comfortable -- A-listers are invited to trade gowns and tuxedos for pajamas).

"Ratings have been flagging for award shows for years... This is, if nothing else, an opportunity to mix things up, to do an award ceremony in a way unlike any other that's been done," said IndieWire TV awards editor Libby Hill.

"Even if Sunday night is a complete disaster, it's at least going to be an interesting disaster. And that's really all you ask for in 2020."

2020 Emmy Awards nominations
Nominations in key categories for the 2020 Emmy Awards. Photo: AFP / STF

Capturing this year's somewhat anarchic zeitgeist, "Watchmen" leads the charge with a whopping 26 nominations, primarily in the limited series categories.

The eerily prescient comic book adaptation that debuted last October confronts historic US racism, police violence and even mask-wearing. It also wowed critics and audiences alike.

"'Watchmen' speaks so specifically in so many unprecedented ways to the moment in which we're living right now," said Hill.

Regina King
Regina King -- seen here at the premiere of HBO's "Watchmen" at The Cinerama Dome on October 14, 2019 in Los Angeles -- is seen as a favourite to take home an Emmy. Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Rich Fury

"I think people will probably get pretty tired of hearing Watchmen's name getting called... it's as much of a lock as we have right now."

The cast of HBO drama "Succession"
The cast of HBO drama "Succession" are seen here at the Golden Globes in January 2020, when the show took home honours for best drama and another for best lead drama actor for Brian Cox (2nd from right) -- they are hoping to do the same at the Emmys. Photo: AFP / Frederic J. Brown

With HBO's record-breaking Emmys juggernaut "Game of Thrones" having finally mounted a dragon and soared off to Westeros, the awards in the drama series categories promise to be more fiercely contested this year.

"It's a relief for HBO that they have 'Succession' hitting at the right time," said Deadline awards columnist Pete Hammond.

The critically adored show about a powerful family's back-stabbing battle for control of a dynastic media empire won a writing Emmy in its first season, and has amassed 18 nominations this time.

Jimmy Kimmel will host the virtual Emmys
Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has the tough task of hosting the Emmys, the first major pandemic-era awards show. Photo: AFP / Chris Delmas

But it is tied with "Ozark," a dark money-laundering tale set in the American heartland from Netflix, which despite landing a record 160 nominations this year is still desperate to win its first major series Emmy.

Lurking in the background are British royals saga "The Crown" and Star Wars tale "The Mandalorian," which boasts lavish Thrones-esque production values and has already scooped five Emmys in technical categories this week for newcomer Disney+.

Comedy this year appears to be a toss-up between previous serial winner "The Marvelous Mrs Maisel" -- Amazon's quirky tale of a 1950s housewife who becomes a standup comic -- and "Schitt's Creek."

The latter, a Canadian comedy about a privileged family forced to live in a rundown motel, failed to earn a single nomination in its first four years, but became a sleeper hit after airing on Netflix and signed off with a heartwarming final season.

Emmy voters "know it's the show's last chance... that's the one that's got big momentum," said Hammond.

Of the more than 100 acting nominations in the drama, comedy, limited series and television movie categories this year, more than a third of them went to black actors -- a new record

Aside from the awards themselves, the night will honor the career achievement of Tyler Perry.

The African-American entertainment mogul has championed greater diversity in Hollywood, and this year paid funeral costs for black victims of police violence including George Floyd.

The theme of tackling racism is expected to feature prominently throughout the night, while many stars in famously liberal Hollywood are likely to have a wary eye on President Donald Trump's re-election bid.

And then of course there's the pandemic itself to address.

With nominees given "unprecedented freedom" as they broadcast from locations of their choosing, winners' speeches on a night billed by Kimmel as "the Emmys meet Big Brother" are likely to have surprises in store.

"It's a crapshoot," said Hammond. "That's the one thing you can't predict."

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