BET Awards producer Connie Orlando: It was ‘terrifying’ to put on a show in a pandemic, but also an ‘opportunity’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“We did millions of Zoom calls, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” says Connie Orlando about the unique challenges of producing the 2020 BET Awards. She’s the Executive Vice President and Head of Programming for Black Entertainment Television, and last June the network had to reinvent the awards show as one of the first events to go forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch our exclusive video interview with Orlando above.

“I think towards the end of April it hit us that we really needed to figure out if we’re going to do the show and then pivot in how we would have to execute it,” Orlando explains about the initial uncertainty surrounding the awards. “It was really terrifying at first, but then I think after you kind of sit with it we looked at it as an opportunity.” Once they realized they couldn’t hold a traditional ceremony, they “leaned into that” and asked themselves, “What kind of BET Awards would you do if you weren’t limited to a 100-foot stage?”

The show they put on blended the comedy of host Amanda Seales with a wide range of musical performances from artists including Alicia Keys, Megan Thee Stallion, and Roddy Ricch, among many others, in addition to tributes to Litttle Richard and Humanitarian Award recipient Beyonce. But all that was against the backdrop of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which took place just a month before the awards aired and sparked worldwide protests against police brutality.

“Every year we actually speak to whatever is going on,” Orlando points out about the social consciousness of the BET Awards, so “with the show, it was organic, it was what everyone was feeling.” That’s especially true for the performers, who have a history of combining art and activism: “I think musicians have always used their platform in times of turmoil and change to amplify the message,” leading to a telecast that celebrated Black art while also uplifting Black lives.

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