Emmys look a little like last year, save for Harris’ hosting

[21 September 2009]

By Maureen Ryan

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CHICAGO — The 2009 Emmys looked a lot like the 2008 Emmys, when it came to the winners.

Once again, Tina Fey picked up a best comedy statue for “30 Rock” (it was the NBC show’s third win). “Mad Men” won for a second time as best drama.

Glenn Close and Bryan Cranston picked up their second Emmys in the lead drama acting categories, for “Damages” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively, and Alec Baldwin also won a second time for his performance as network executive Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock.” The only new winner in the top acting categories was Toni Collette, who won for her role on “United States of Tara.” All those winners were quite deserving, but there was a certain deja vu quality to the proceedings, as there often is at the Emmys, where certain shows and performers tend to dominate for years.

But in one important respect, the ceremony that aired Sunday on CBS was very different from the 2008 Emmys. Thanks to the efforts of terrific host Neil Patrick Harris and an overall jazzier approach to the broadcast, the 2008 Emmys were much less of a chore to sit through. Though the ceremony inevitably got bogged down, especially in the mushy, miniseries-dominated middle, the 2009 ceremony was as much of an improvement as the still-flawed Emmys probably could have made.

The opening number set the tone: Harris sang that viewers should “put down the remote,” and the producers tried a variety of strategies to see ensure that, some of them successful, some of them not. If nothing else, the pace was peppier, but there are some things the Emmy broadcast just can’t overcome, including the sheer repetition of some shows and actors winning year after year and the boredom induced by the frequently snoozy awards for miniseries, TV movies and reality shows.

“It’s better than last year, though, isn’t it. That was always on the cards, though, let’s be honest,” said award presenter Ricky Gervais, whose yearly Emmy appearances are always delicious feasts of sardonic wit. Gervais, like many others, made light of the fact that last year’s Emmy broadcast was fairly disastrous. This year, however, the Emmys were not a disaster. Thank goodness.

Various winners used their brief time on stage to praise Harris’ sprightly performance as host. “You’re doing a wonderful job, by the way,” said “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart during one of his program’s two wins.

Harris, who wore a white tuxedo jacket, occupied a snazzy stage which held not only the live band but the show’s control room. Going into and coming out of each commercial break, there was a split-screen of up to four different areas of activity, from the backstage press room to the preparations for the next segment.

And there was a certain energy to it all, especially in the early going. In a fairly radical change, the Emmy producers split the evening into five different segments, one for drama, one for comedy, one for reality and so on. It was a wise choice to start with comedy; people who can be funny are the least likely to turn off viewers.

However they didn’t hand out the top comedy award during the comedy segment. Sure, it made a certain sense to hold back the biggest awards for the end of the show, but it also seemed like a bit of a rip-off to hand out all the comedy awards but the most important one.

Also, when the show arrived at the duller categories, such as reality, TV movies and miniseries, things slowed down considerably. One high point of this slower section was when “Survivor’s” Jeff Probst won the best reality host award. Alluding to the 2008 Emmy gambit of having several reality-show hosts do the emceeing, Probst said, “Neil Patrick Harris, this is how you host the Emmys. Nice job.”

He was right. There’s no reason Harris should not have the Emmy hosting gig for life. He was affable and witty, quick on his feet and he brought the old-school razzle-dazzle but could also make fun of himself. He turned the fact that he lost the best supporting comedy actor Emmy to Jon Cryer into a running joke.

And in one of the cleverest moments of the awards show, the leaden bit where the show’s accountants come to the stage was interrupted by a rogue Webcast from Dr. Horrible, Harris’ character from Joss Whedon’s Emmy-winning Internet musical, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”

“The future of home entertainment is the Internet,” Dr. Horrible crowed, just before encountering technical difficulties that ended his short but funny broadcast.

And the program itself was jazzier. Nominees, even in writing and directing categories, got brief, pre-taped moments in which to give advice or make jokes, hence we had an amusing quick bit in which executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse from “Lost” debated whether writing was fun, and then Cuse punched Lindelof in the face (it was a fake punch. I think).

However there are some structural problems built into the Emmys that even the most lively host and most snappy direction can’t fix.

Many awards just don’t deserve to be in the main Emmy broadcast. Quite a few of the reality and miniseries awards should simply be moved to the Creative Arts Awards, which are not part of the live broadcast. It simply is not necessary to see the supporting actors and actresses in miniseries win awards. Those awards, which came in the second hour, just stopped the show cold.

But there’s an even bigger problem. It doesn’t matter which category we’re talking about — reality, comedy or drama — the same winners keep winning year after year. The Emmys have never come up with a way to deal with this problem, which leads to the same faces at the podium and the same speeches every year.

The only fair way to alleviate this situation is to put a limit on the number of years that one show or one performance on a program can be nominated. A restriction like that is unlikely, however, so expect the 2010 Emmys to be much the same as the 2009 Emmys.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/111858-emmys-look-a-little-like-last-year-save-for-harris-hosting/