Sunday night’s telecast of the 60th Annual Emmy Awards set a new standard for awards shows. You could take every elephant Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus owns, feed them rancid chili and spoiled boiled eggs for a month, and they could not create a bigger stinker.
It wasn’t who won the awards. The Emmy voters correctly heaped praise on “John Adams,” “Recount,” “Mad Men” and “Damages.” There were few categories where the most worthy did not shine. Even the little-seen work of Bryan Cranston on the AMC series “Breaking Bad” caught the attention of the voters.
But draped around the awards, like an infected fungus, were the idiotic opening, the rambling acceptance speeches in the first 90 minutes and a musical number that could have killed a career.
And it all started in the opening moments when the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences bowed down to Oprah Winfrey. They allowed the daytime talk show host to open the program by doing a stilted reading of a speech about why we need television. You think Winfrey could at least fake that she cares. The speech went beyond self-indulgent to completely boring. Tom Cruise needed to rush out and jump up and down on the stage to put some life in the show.
The academy decided to spotlight this year’s new category of outstanding host for a reality or reality program by letting Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Jeff Probst be the co-hosts. They were a disaster.
No, wait. A disaster is the Titanic sinking. This was as if the Hindenberg slammed into the Titanic and the whole mess fell on the Great Chicago Fire. That’s not exactly right, but pretty close.
For what seemed like an eternity, Seacrest, Mandel and Probst babbled about not having anything written to say. Mandel kept repeating “This is no bit.”
Well, duh. If it had been a bit it would have been cut at the first rehearsal. The only saving grace was the look on Bergeron’s face. It was that look Dexter gets just before he takes a life. And Klum just looked lost. She might have been trying to establish an alibi.
At least Jeremy Piven, who picked up this third consecutive Emmy for his work in “Entourage,” said what everyone was thinking. When his acceptance speech started to wander he said “What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes. That was the opening.” Touche.
It got worse.
Lines written for guest presenters were so bad, even the presenters started making fun of them. “The Late Late Show Host” Craig Ferguson quoted Don Rickles, who sarcastically said “Let’s read the funny lines they have written for us.” For Ferguson that meant a fake speech about how much he respected fellow presenter Brooke Shields. She responded by asking if Ferguson’s hand was on her buttock. That was a good whiff of failure.
The night was supposed to be a tribute to 60 years of television. It ended up being a reminder that people grow old. The incredibly talented Tom Smothers stayed on the stage so long the awards show was behind its scheduled three-hour run time after 30 minutes.
Timing was so bad that 10 awards were handed out in 90 minutes. The other 19 were presented in the final 90 minutes. That meant Paul Giamatti, one of best actors working today, had to rush through his acceptance speech for Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie for the powerful “John Adams.”
But there was plenty of time for five “Laugh-In” cast members to remind us that the comedy variety show worked because of crisp timing. Alan Sues, now 82, was a ball of energy when he did “Laugh-In” in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. It was painful to watch him struggling with the few lines he had in this bit.
Sues wasn’t alone. Ricky Gervais looked like he was going to rub the skin off his knuckles during his category introduction. Martin Sheen was wasted in a segment where he encouraged people to get out and vote. Vanessa Williams’ microphone didn’t work.
And then there was Josh Groban. The singer has certainly found a following with his adult contemporary style of music. But Groban should never sing a Will Smith tune. That was just one of the spine-hurting moments in a musical montage of television themes. The themes were written for a wide range of voices. Groban made it all sound like elevator music.
In what was the final big stench, the awards show’s hosts returned to the stage to learn who had won the Emmy in their new category. The bit, handled by talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel (who had already driven a spike of desperation into the night with his pre-Emmy show), was a takeoff of “American Idol.”
The humane thing would have been to vote all five Emmy hosts off the show and end the fiasco early.