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Quibi Wins First Emmys at Creative Arts Awards for ‘FreeRayshawn,’ After Spending Top Dollar on Originals

Variety — Todd Spangler

Quibi, in its awards-season debut, picked up two trophies at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Thursday night.

Both were for “#FreeRayshawn,” a police drama from from executive producer Antoine Fuqua: Laurence Fishburne and Jasmine Cephas Jones won the acting awards in the Emmys short-form category. It was Fishburne’s third career Emmy win, and the first win for Cephas Jones (“Hamilton”) and her first nomination.

The first Emmy wins for Quibi, which is led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, don’t come as a surprise: The well-funded mobile streamer has paid handsomely for its originals — upwards of $100,000 per minute of programming from A-list Hollywood talent. All of its entries were in the short-form categories, which historically have been populated by series that are sidecars to TV shows.

Overall, Quibi had picked up 10 Emmy Awards nominations. But it was mainly competing against itself, since it captured four of the five spots in each of the short-form actor and actress categories, and two of the five in the comedy/drama category.

Quibi lost out in the short form comedy or drama series category to AMC’s “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Legal Ethics With Kim Wexler.” The streamer had scored nods for “Reno 911,” a revival of Comedy Central’s cop spoof, and for dystopian thriller “Most Dangerous Game,” starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz. (The other nominees in the short-form series bracket were CBS All Access’ animated “Star Trek: Short Treks” and NBC’s “The Good Place Presents: The Selection.”)

“#FreeRayshawn” had scored three acting nominations total: In addition to Fishburne (as Lt. Steven Poincy) and Cephas Jones (as Tyisha), Stephan James (as Rayshawn) also earned a nod.

From Fuqua Films and Sony Pictures Television, “#FreeRayshawn” had a $15 million budget — $1 million per episode, which averaged around 10 minutes each, of the 15-ep series. It was directed by Seith Mann and created and written by Marc Maurino. In the series, a young, Black veteran of the Iraq War (James) finds himself in a showdown with a New Orleans SWAT team, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and barricades himself in his home with his girlfriend (Cephas Jones). Ultimately, Rayshawn places his trust — and his fate — in the hands of a police lieutenant (Fishburne) to find the evidence that exonerates him.

Quibi’s other Emmy nominations were: Waltz for “Most Dangerous Game”; Corey Hawkins for plane-crash drama “Survive,” co-starring Sophie Turner; Kaitlin Olson for dark comedy “Flipped” (co-starring Will Forte); and Kerri Kenney-Silver for “Reno 911”; and Anna Kendrick for Cody Heller’s “Dummy,” about a woman who befriends her boyfriend’s sex doll.

The two actors nominated for short form comedy or drama series who were not on Quibi shows were Mamoudou Athie for “Oh Jerome, No” (part of FXX’s “Cake” anthology series) and Rain Valdez for web series “Razor Tongue” from Now>Ever.

The Emmy Awards’ short-form categories are open to original programs with an average episode running time of 2-17 minutes. That’s right in Quibi’s sweet spot, as it presents “quick bite” episodes of around 10 minutes each designed for smartphones.

It remains to be seen whether the Emmy wins can help Quibi attract new customers. The startup has had a tough time signing up subscribers since its April launch, just weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the U.S. Quibi has banked $1.75 billion in funding from Hollywood studios and other investors.

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