BAFTA Chair Krishnendu Majumdar Reflects on Television Awards’ Virtual Pivot

Christel Deskins

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) managed to stage its glitzy Film Awards in February at the Royal Albert Hall with legions of celebrities just before the coronavirus lockdown, but its Television Awards on Friday will be a very different affair. Gone is the traditional red carpet. […]

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) managed to stage its glitzy Film Awards in February at the Royal Albert Hall with legions of celebrities just before the coronavirus lockdown, but its Television Awards on Friday will be a very different affair.

Gone is the traditional red carpet. This year’s event is a virtual ceremony, which will be hosted from an audience-free studio by comedian, filmmaker and actor Richard Ayoade (“Travel Man,” “The IT Crowd”).

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Even if it’s not possible for all the nominees and the TV industry to gather in person on the night, BAFTA chair Krishnendu Majumdar — who took over in June from producer Pippa Harris — says it’s important for BAFTA to “celebrate the brilliance and the importance of television” during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The co-founder of Me+You Productions, Majumdar is currently producing a new series of Dominic Savage’s drama anthology, “I Am,” starring Suranne Jones and Ashley Walters, for Channel 4, which goes into production on Monday. He was previously a showrunner on the BAFTA-nominated hit global franchise “An Idiot Abroad.”

“Especially at the moment, with what we are living through, television really brings people together,” says Majumdar. “TV is one of the most dominant cultural forms in the world today. Long form TV drama has, I think, taken over from the novel in terms of storytelling.”

On hand at Friday’s virtual BAFTA TV Awards will be talent including Adrian Lester, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal and Nina Sosanya to help announce this year’s winners, while the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Chris O’Dowd, David Tennant and Kermit the Frog will present awards via video link.

As with the BAFTA Craft Awards, held earlier this month, the winners will provide pre-recorded acceptance speeches. Frontrunners for this year BAFTAs, considered the U.K.’s premier TV awards, include “Chernobyl,” “Fleabag,” “The Crown,” “Giri/Haji” and “The Virtues.”

Actor, writer and producer Idris Elba will also receive the Special Award, one of BAFTA’s highest accolades, to mark his career and his championing of diversity and new talent.

Majumdar notes that BAFTA’s pivot to a virtual ceremony has had a number of positive benefits, with the organization working hard to produce a range of activities to “make it special.”

For example, photographer Rankin directed BAFTA’s first virtual photo shoot of this year’s nominees. The pictures were released Thursday and have been widely picked up in the media. The socially distanced shoot took place in each of the nominees’ homes via a series of video calls, with the help of their families and friends. They include “Doctor Foster” star Suranne Jones who is pictured reading a newspaper in an armchair in her garden shed, and “The Virtues” actor Stephen Graham leaping in the air from a trampoline. “They’re brilliant pictures,” says Majumdar. “We’re trying to make up for not having a red carpet.”

Ahead of the ceremony, which airs on BBC One in the U.K. at 7pm BST, comedian Tom Allen is hosting the “Virgin Media BAFTA TV Pre-Show,” which will stream live on BAFTA’s social channels on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook from 6pm. Taking the place of the traditional red carpet program, the show will feature interviews with nominees and guest presenters, including Jodie Comer, Glenda Jackson and Stacey Dooley.

Majumdar also flags up a series of free online masterclasses and craft sessions with nominees that BAFTA has produced ahead of the awards. Usually these would take place behind closed doors, but they have been made publicly available. “We’ve reached bigger audiences by pivoting to be online,” says Majumdar. “It’s a real opportunity for us to connect with people.”

This year’s event also takes place amid an ongoing review at BAFTA to improve representation in its awards, after widespread criticism for a lack of diversity in this year’s Film Awards.

Majumdar says BAFTA’s “root and branch” diversity review covers the film, TV and games awards, and will report in September.

In the meantime, the executive says he’s “encouraged” by the diversity of the TV Awards, pointing out that 36% of the performance nominees are from diverse backgrounds, which is significantly up on 14% last year. “There’s real progress and encouragement there. It’s really important that our awards reflect society.”

He notes, however, that there is “more work to be done” in diversity around the TV Craft Awards.

He also addresses criticism about the lack of diversity in BAFTA’s factual television category, which was flagged up earlier this year by industry network We are Doc Women.

The nominations for the BAFTA TV factual director category are an all-male affair. For the second year in succession, not a single woman has been nominated in the category.

Majumdar says he has met with We Are Doc Women to discuss the issue. “We are really looking at the other barriers to other diversity [within] the Television Awards, and what we can do,” he says, adding that it is important to “encourage and engage with the industry” on the issue. He also cites direct interventions that BAFTA is making to improve representation, pointing to the BAFTA Elevate scheme, which aims to elevate individuals from under-represented groups.

“There is more work to be done, but we are in the midst of it, and we are really serious about it,” says Majumdar.

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