You’d think trying to produce the 2020 BET Awards during the coronavirus pandemic would be filled with restrictions, but instead, show producers took another approach: We’re not limited to a single-stage, so sky’s the limit and let your creative minds run free.
That’s what the producers of the show ran with when crafting the special event, which was a major success and one of the first virtual awards shows of the coronavirus era. While abiding by safety guidelines and rules, the BET Awards featured highly produced, artsy pre-taped performances from DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, John Legend and Alicia Keys, while also addressing current issues in the world about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and inequality.
“The irony of it is that we are in a situation where we are ‘locked down’ and can’t do this and can’t do that. But the truth is that, in this particular platform, it’s actually very freeing,” Jesse Collins, the longtime BET Awards producer, said in an interview Monday. “Creatively, it’s very freeing.”
Connie Orlando, BET’s executive vice president of specials, music programming and music strategy, echoed Collins’ thoughts.
“A show with Covid is challenging because of all the regulations and safety. Also, it takes the guardrail off. You’re not limited to just being in a venue on a 100-foot stage. You can kind of let your imagination go wild and really create art and pieces that are epic,” she said.
ViacomCBS, BET’s parent company, had a Covid-19 task force in place, which helped BET keep safety at the forefront of production. The show's production was monitored by lawyers and experts in production, safety and risk management.
“If we wanted to change something or do it in a different way, they would tell us,” Orlando said. “They’re looking at the federal guidelines, the state, local laws, as well as the unions.”
The show celebrated the 20th anniversary of the awards show and BET’s 40th year as a network. Orlando said though other networks cancelled awards shows and special events, BET was always going to try to hold on: “Never in my mind was it that we would cancel it.”
From its opening number, which included performers like Chuck D, Nas, Questlove and 12-year-old sensation Keedron Bryant rapping and singing about the Black experience to DaBaby’s gripping performance as he emulated the last few moments of George Floyd’s life by rapping as a police officer pressed his knee on his neck, the BET Awards stood out in a major way.
As the world continues to protest following the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and others, speaking out boldly felt more relevant than ever.
“This year was almost like a perfect storm. I think over decades music and musicians have always used their art for activism ... (and) BET has always been the platform to amplify our voices,” Orlando said.