Column: Entertainment industry braces for virtual backslide as awards season looms

WTOP's Jason Fraley details Omicron's impact on Hollywood (Part 1)

Hollywood and Broadway thought they were out of the woods when COVID-19 vaccines rolled out last spring. However, the double gut punch of the delta and omicron variants is causing a rapid surge in cases, forcing the entertainment industry to suddenly reassess.

On Wednesday, the Recording Academy announced that it was postponing the Grammys, which were supposed to be held on Jan. 31. No word yet on a reschedule date, meaning music fans will have to wait to see whether Jon Batiste makes good on his leading 11 nominations, followed by Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and H.E.R. with eight apiece.

“The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority,” the Recording Academy and CBS said in a joint statement. “Given the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant, holding the show on January 31 simply contains too many risks.”

Also on Wednesday, the Sundance Film Festival announced that it was canceling its in-person festival from Jan. 20-30, instead holding its second all-virtual event. The news was heartbreaking for filmmakers excited to show their work on the silver screen, but one silver lining is that the virtual option democratizes the festival for audiences everywhere.

“This was a difficult decision to make,” Sundance said in a statement. “As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecast to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate.”

Elsewhere, the Critics Choice Awards were supposed to be held this Sunday, but they got postponed to a future date. This nullifies a potential clash with the Golden Globes, which still plans to announce winners in a livestream Sunday but won’t be holding a televised ceremony due to NBC pulling the plug over a glaring lack of diversity in its membership.

“After thoughtful consideration and candid conversations with our partners at The CW and TBS, we have collectively come to the conclusion that the prudent and responsible decision at this point is to postpone,” the Critics Choice Awards said. “We are currently working diligently to find a new date during the upcoming awards season in which to host our annual gala in-person with everyone’s safety and health remaining our top priority.”

Hollywood may be forced delay its releases again. The superhero flick “Morbius” was just pushed from Jan. 28 to April 1. However, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is still dominating the box office as fans flock to theaters. Within days of its Dec. 17 release, it became the top-grossing film of 2021 and ranks No. 48 all-time domestically (adjusted for inflation).

On Broadway, nearly a third of shows shut down: “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Freestyle Love Supreme,” “Hamilton,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Waitress,” “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” “Six,” “Hadestown,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

Locally in D.C., Arena Stage cut short “Seven Guitars” on Dec. 23, National Theatre canceled “Pretty Woman” on Dec. 28-Jan. 2, the Kennedy Center axed its Dec. 15-26 performances of “Ain’t Too Proud,” which has been extend to Jan. 16, and Ford’s Theatre canceled all performances of its MLK play “The Mountaintop” slated for Jan. 21 to Feb. 13.

Across the river in Virginia, Signature Theatre scrapped its Dec. 21-29 performances of “Rent,” which has since been extended through Jan. 9. In Maryland, Round House Theatre axed its Jan. 5-12 performances of “Nine Night,” but it hopes to honor all remaining dates.

Could more performances, movies and award shows be delayed? The Screen Actors Guild Awards are scheduled for Feb. 27 and the Academy Awards for March 27. Will omicron have subsided by then? Or will there be a new variant? The truth is: we simply don’t know.

Until then, let’s try to find the positives in this mess. Last year’s virtual Sundance Film Fest produced a pair of streaming gems with Questlove’s documentary “Summer of Soul” and Sian Heder’s “CODA,” the latter of which won the most awards in Sundance history, inked a record distribution deal with Apple, and is now a lovable dark horse in the Oscar race.

If you haven’t seen either of them, fire up a free trial for Hulu and Apple TV+.

Not even a pandemic can stop the feel-good movies of the year.

WTOP's Jason Fraley details Omicron's impact on Hollywood (Part 2)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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