Greg Whiteley (‘Cheer’) on ‘super exciting’ Emmy noms and what ‘devastated’ him in Season 2 [Exclusive Video Interview]

The first season of Netflix’s “Cheerwon three Emmys in 2020 for Best Unstructured Reality Program, Best Directing and Best Picture Editing. Two years later, the popular docuseries is nominated for those exact same three awards. “I try to pretend as a documentarian, as an artist, to be above such things as awards, but I’m really not,” smiles nominated director/producer Greg Whiteley. “I was super excited and flattered and I’m really looking forward to the ceremony, and it’s been fun to plan with my wife what we’ll do that night.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

The last time around, the Creative Arts Emmys went virtual because of the pandemic, but this year the ceremony will be back to normal. “It was so fun to be a part of even that virtual festivity … [but] I’m really looking forward to this, to being there in person,” Whiteley tells me. The “Cheer” categories will be announced Saturday, September 3 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, the week before the main Primetime Emmy ceremony on Monday, September 12.

In between the first and second seasons, it was revealed that one of the breakout “Cheer” students, Jerry Harris, had engaged in unlawful behavior with minors. Whiteley explains how it was an easy decision to address the sex scandal right up front. “It was just impossible to tell that story without accounting for Jerry and what had happened in terms of his arrest and the news that broke because of it and the effect that it had on the team,” he says. “It was so palpable. I mean, even though physically he was not present on that team during the latter half of us shooting that second season of ‘Cheer,’ it was as though he was ever-present. He cast a very long shadow over that whole season and particularly over Monica.”

He’s referring to Navarro College cheer coach Monica Aldama, who became the face of the docuseries and even went on “Dancing with the Stars” during the Fall 2020 season. “Personally speaking, [the Jerry scandal] was devastating for me,” Whiteley readily admits, “so maybe that was coloring the way I was seeing things, but I don’t think so. I think any objective observer doing their job as a documentarian trying to chronicle their story would have come to the same conclusion that we came to — you just had to lead with it.”

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Whiteley has “no explanation” for how “Cheer” became such an overnight global phenomenon, with everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres to Joe Biden being fans. “I’ve been doing this a little while and I think we’ve been doing good work — me and the talented team that I work with — and so we always sort of expect success. We’re always like, ‘Hey this is good I think the audiences are really gonna like it.’ But the thing that happened with ‘Cheer’ was something that was very unique and even now very difficult to explain,” he concedes.

The filmmaker goes into depth about why he chose the Season 2 finale, “Daytona Pt. 2: If the Judges Disagree,” as his Emmy submission in the directing category. In addition to the season-long battle between Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College coming to an unexpected conclusion, that was also the episode where Monica had an emotional reunion with a student named La’Darius Marshall after they had a previous falling out.

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