At the end of the Emmys Sunday night, after “The Sopranos” won for best drama and the cast and crew were swarming on stage, you half expected a guy in a Members Only jacket to cross the room and for the screen to go black.
Emmy voters surely have their issues, and they showed it in other places, but they got one big thing right Sunday by definitively declaring HBO’s landmark “The Sopranos” a drama of full excellence, with the best drama win, along with Emmys for writing and directing.
It was clearly the favorite of the audience at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, too. Presenter Helen Mirren, obviously delighted, held up the envelope to show the words “The Sopranos” to the crowd, which might have started throwing chairs if someone else had won.
And, though that was a satisfying ending to a predictably odd show - every Emmy show is odd these days - it was also a nail-biter because, after all, it was the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences that was voting.
But on the whole, the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards turned out better than they might have, considering the quirky choice of Ryan Seacrest as host and the awful best drama actor win for “Boston Legal’s” James Spader.
Spader over “The Sopranos” James Gandolfini or “House’s” Hugh Laurie? What series were those people watching? Wait, they don’t watch the series, just a couple episodes.
But now I’m just ranting, and, frankly, not really complaining about the rest of Sunday night’s business.
The best comedy Emmy to NBC’s sterling-if-underrated “30 Rock” was a happy surprise. “Thanks to our dozens and dozens of viewers,” said Tina Fey, the show’s creator and star.
The best comedy actor went to the generally ignored, but always brilliant, Ricky Gervais from HBO’s “Extras,” and the comedy actress winner was last season’s charming discovery, America Ferrera of ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Nice moves in both cases.
And Sally Field, from ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” was a deserving winner in a very good field of nominees for best drama actress.
The awards show, on Fox, had its moments, too, but most of the good ones came near the end. Gervais was not in the house when he won, so Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert, who were presenting, announced they would give it to their friend Steve Carell. Carell sprinted dopily on stage and the three danced in celebration like happy idiots.
Carell also had a good presenting bit. He showed a video of how beloved he is by other stars of “The Office.”
“Is he dying?” Rainn Wilson said in the clip. “If he’s dying, I will say something nice. Otherwise, I’m good.”
A segment that looked headed for uncomfortable network self-promotion had Wayne Brady, host of Fox’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” holding an “impromptu” remember-the-lyrics competition. You could feel the squirming in the audience
But it was between Wilson, a very funny guy, and rapper Kanye West. The category: The songs of Kanye West. And Wilson won. Surprisingly funny. Self-promotion accomplished.
Seacrest, except for a brief, and weird, costume moment, was mostly a non-issue. The show opened with a not-particularly funny comic song from the animated Brian and Stewie of “Family Guy,” but that wasn’t Seacrest’s fault, except that, maybe, he’s not a comedian and wasn’t going to do a comedy routine himself.
Seacrest did toss out a few harmless semi-jokes, which included making fun of his knowledge of fashion and saying hi to former girlfriend Teri Hatcher. Then, wisely, he turned it over to the first presenter, Ray Romano, who did the show’s real comedy opening.
“Marriage is hard when you don’t have a TV show,” said Romano, star and co-creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “At least, when I had a show, and we had a fight, I’d turn it into an episode. Sometimes, I’d keep the fight going if I didn’t have a second act.”
There were a couple moments of gushing from Seacrest - “And what a great actor he is,” he said after Robert Duvall won his first Emmy ever, as best lead actor in a movie or miniseries for AMC’s “Broken Trail.” That gushing gave the show a slightly kitschy, red-carpetish feel, but welcome to Hollywood awards shows.
Mostly, though, Seacrest left the comic transitions to others and simply brought on the presenters and got out of the way. And he did have one strong, if scripted, line. Talking about the environmentally conscious effort behind the show, he told the audience where the power for lights and cameras came from.
“We have the entire cast of `Kid Nation’ backstage on treadmills,” Seacrest said. “Stay hydrated, guys.”
Overall host grade: B.
As for the academy, a passing grade there, too. The winners were solid, and even surprising, across the board on supporting actors: Jeremy Piven from “Entourage” and Jaime Pressly from “My Name is Earl” in comedy, and Katherine Heigl from “Grey’s Anatomy” and Terry O’Quinn” from “Lost” in drama.
The academy did the right thing on some other fronts, too. It gave Emmys to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” for best Variety, Music or Comedy Series; to “Broken Trail” for best miniseries, and to Mirren for best actress in a miniseries or movie, which fit her as well as the male acting Emmy fit Duval.
There also were some plain odd moments, which is also business as usual with the Emmys.
Al Gore got a standing ovation, when Current, a network he helped start, won an Emmy in a new category, Creative Achievement in Interactive TV. Gore immediately did a promo for the coming Web site.
The presenter pairings seemed sometimes strange, or at least without themes, like the team of Anthony Anderson, who’s got a new, dark cop show on Fox called “K-Ville,” and Hatcher, star of ABC’s fluffy “Desperate Housewives.”
Anderson could feel the weirdness. “This is awkward,” he said, “because Teri and I have been up against each other for the same roles for years.”
There was also an off-target musical salute from the Tony Award-winning cast of “Jersey Boys,” which was way too bubble-gum for the gritty “The Sopranos.” Someone in the production team apparently thought there was synergy in “Jersey Boys” and “The Soprano’s” New Jersey mob.
Still, that was a minor indignity on a night that put a final crown on one of TV’s best shows ever. Plus the screen didn’t go black.
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