by Jim Longworth
I have watched dozens of EMMY award shows over the years, many of them in person, and I can honestly say that Sunday night's broadcast was one of the most disjointed and ill conceived productions I've ever seen. The Hollywood reporter's David Rooney called it "a bloated bore". As far as I'm concerned, Rooney was being generous.
The evening began with host Neil Patrick Harris being escorted by a security guard (played by CBS Chief Les Moonves) into an archival, high tech repository. There, Harris was able to watch every TV show from this season on multiple monitors, all at once. The sketch had potential, but went nowhere, sort of like the awards show itself. Emerging from the repository onto the Nokia stage, Harris then seemed poised to do one of his famous musical numbers. Instead he was interrupted by past EMMY hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O'Brien. The joke was that the former hosts were complaining about not being asked to return as host (lucky them). Again, this was funny for the first few seconds, but led to nothing but Harris introducing the first two presenters.
The three hour telecast was a mish mash of unfunny pre taped bits, pointless musical numbers, a protracted dance routine by choreography nominees, memorial tributes that failed to showcase the stars they honored, and a bizarre salute to the year 1963.
There were three musical numbers in the show. The first was by Sir Elton John who performed a forgettable new song which he dedicated to Liberace. The number was introduced by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who starred in this year's EMMY winning TV movie, "Behind the Candelabra". First of all it was inappropriate to single out any one nominated show or film with a musical tribute, and second, if the Academy had wanted to honor Liberace, why not spend a few minutes showing clips from his TV series, rather than subjecting us to six minutes of Sir Elton. There was also a "middle of the show" musical number by Harris, which was supposed to be innovative because it didn't appear at the beginning of the show. Get it? Then there was the performance by Carrie Underwood which followed the aforementioned 1963 tribute. Here's how that debacle unfolded.
First we see a clip from November 22, 1963 of Walter Cronkite announcing that President John F.Kennedy had just been assassinated. OK, that's fine. This is 2013, so we're going to watch a series of TV clips from 50 years ago. Wrong. Actor Don Cheadle walked out on stage after the Cronkite bit and proceeded to make a connection between the JFK assassination and the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show the following year. It seems that the writers of this segment (and I use the term loosely) wanted us to believe that the nation was allowed to end its mourning when John, Paul, George, and Ringo sang on American TV in February of 1964. Newsflash, the nation didn't wait for the Beatles to give us permission to enjoy watching TV again. Also, why did a segment celebrating the year 1963 focus on a musical group from 1964. Then came Ms Underwood who sang "Yesterday" with a huge photo of the Beatles behind her. Again, what the hell did the Beatles have to do with TV 50 years ago when they didn't show up until 49 years ago?
Speaking of historic hallmarks, it had been over fifty years since the category for best choreographed TV show was actually awarded during the prime time telecast. But lucky us, this year the EMMY producers (apparently all refugees from Glee) decided to recognize the dance category at the main ceremony rather than announcing the winner a week earlier at the creative arts awards. Viewers were treated to a behind the scenes look at how this year's choreography nominees would plan their own tribute number, then, voila! We got to see them perform it.
Another 6 minutes wasted.
And speaking of time wasted, the show's producer decided to bifurcate the In Memoriam segment by augmenting the traditional montage of those who passed away this year, with five separate tribute pieces. The tributes were made to James Gandolfini (Sopranos) Jean Stapleton (All in the Family), funny man Jonathan Winters, Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), and Corey Monteith (Glee).
Two problems there. First, was the choice of Monteith, a young actor who killed himself with an overdose of heroin earlier this year. The family of Jack Klugman and others voiced their displeasure with honoring a drug addict who had never won an EMMY, over actors (Like Klugman, Larry Hagman, and others) who made a significant contribution to the industry over a long career. To single out Monteith for a tribute was inappropriate, and further proof that Gleeks were running the EMMY awards asylum for the night. Also, the tributes themselves fell short.
Each of the five deceased stars were eulogized by one of their co-stars, Jane Lynch for Montieth, Edie Falco for Gandolfini, and so forth. All five speeches were heartfelt, but I kept waiting for someone to roll tape on clips of the honorees. It never happened. Instead we were left with verbosity and no substance. It was the theme of the night. And don't get me started on the background music for the In Memoriam montage, which consisted of a dirge-like cello solo. And rather than edit clips to the cello music, we only got to see a series of black and white slides.
There were a few bright moments in the telecast, like Julia Louis Dreyfus (a Best Actress winner for VEEP) bringing co-star Tony Hale with her up onstage to hold her purse and whisper cues in her ear - something Hale's character in VEEP would do. And Will Ferrell brought the house down by walking on stage to present two awards, accompanied by his three small children. Ferrell explained that he was a last minute substitution for Helen Mirren, and didn't have time to line up child care. The only memorable, spontaneous moment came when Bob Newhart was about to present an award. His co-presenter Jim Parsons reminded the crowd that Bob had just won his first EMMY for a guest role on the Big Bang Theory, and without prompting, the ceremony came to a halt as 6,000 people rose to give Bob a standing ovation. That's what the telecast needed more of, spontaneity and honoring television excellence, not just from 2013, but for the past six decades. The viewers deserved better. So did the industry.
Jim Longworth is a columnist for YESWeekly.com, and author of the "TV Creators" series of books. He also serves as judge for the primetime EMMYs, and hosts a weekly TV show for Sinclair stations.
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