“Pearl,” the Oscar-nominated animated 360-degree virtual reality show from Google Spotlight Stories, won the first Emmy for Innovation in Interactive Programming on Wednesday night.
“‘Pearl’ is a very heartwarming story, and a story first,” said Marc Johnson, a TV Academy governor who co-heads the academy’s Interactive Media Peer Group. “But they also did some clever things with the VR and the way it looks. The viewer is placed in the passenger seat of the car and can look around by using the windows of the car as frames. It was a very natural way to focus (the audience’s) attention.”
A 12-member jury picked “Pearl” from nine finalist projects for the interactive innovation Emmy, created this year as part of a general revamp of all five of the TV Academy’s interactive awards.
“We’re hoping this will be our lighthouse award, shining a light on where TV is going,” Johnson said. “The innovation award is about what’s breaking, what’s interesting and exciting.”
“Pearl” tells the story of a man and his daughter over 20 years, told as the two of them sit in the same beloved car while she grows up. “Pearl” was previously a nominee for this year’s Oscar for best animated short.
During an evening reception that featured online stars Janina Gavankar and Hunter March as co-hosts and a short speech by actor/digital entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the peer group gave its Lucy Hood Digerati Award to Joe Lewis.
“A lot of us have come from studios, where things have been done the same way for a long time,” said Lewis, who is head of comedy, drama and VR for Amazon Studios. “That’s what I love about my job. It’s not easy what we do, building something out of nothing. There’s no road really.”
Gordon-Levitt, a 2014 Emmy winner who is a nominee again this year for Original Interactive Program, said he’s recently been reading a Marshall McLuhan book called “The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man,” about the transformative impact on Western society of the German printer’s invention (for Europeans anyway) of movable type.
“It’s somewhat analogous to today,” Gordon-Levitt said. “We have this incredible new technology that could be as impactful as the printing press. Once they started printing, the world was never the same. (The new interactive technologies) maybe will have an even bigger impact, but maybe not yet.”
That’s because, he said, the first generation of creators in a new medium tends to spend a lot of time applying the lessons those creators learned in older media. It takes a while (for books, it took most of a century) before the new medium’s impact can be more fully realized by creators native to the medium.
The reception was also an opportunity for the peer group to recognize Emmy nominees in four other categories:
- Interactive Program – “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Online,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Saturday Night Live Multiplatform Experience,” “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
- Original Interactive Program – “Amigo to the Rescue” Disney Junior Interactive Show, “Dear Angelica,” “Are You There Democracy? It’s Me, the Internet,” “Mission: ISS,” “The People’s House – Inside the White House with Barack and Michelle Obama.”
- Creative Achievement in Interactive Media within a Scripted Program – ‘The Man in the High Castle: Resistance Radio,” “The Mr. Robot Virtual Reality Experience,” “The Simpsons – Planet of the Couches,” “Stranger Things VR Experience,” “Westworld.”
- Creative Achievement in Interactive Media within an Unscripted Program – “E! Live 360,” “The Oscars: All Access,” “Stand for Rights: A Benefit for the ACLU with Tom Hanks,” “Stand Up to Cancer: #Reasons2StandUp,” “The Voice on Snapchat Show.”
Winners from those four categories will be awarded this weekend, during the two-day Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies, followed a week later by the televised Primetime Emmys.
In a significant change from last year, the four categories were voted on by the entire peer group, which has more than 900 members. Only the innovation award was a juried prize.
Among the notable tidbits regarding this year’s nominees: two ACLU projects were recognized (“Stand for Rights” and the Gordon-Levitt project, “Are You There Democracy?”).
Also, among the interactive noms were two of the longest running shows on TV: “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons,” at 42 and 30 years respectively, plus however you want to count “The Tonight Show,” which has had several hosts since Jack Paar launched the show in 1957.
In all, more than 40 VR or 360-degree video projects were among those submitted for the five interactive categories, Johnson said.