Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On The Fifth Day Of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas (which has already passed) my true love – Television – gave to me ... five Emmy hosts.

What were they thinking?

I mean seriously: What were they THINKING?!

I'm getting this out late because I spent a cold and not overly clement Tuesday with my little nephew, which really meant watching cartoons on Teletoon here in Canada. This would normally spark a rant on the quality of the modern TV cartoon as compared with the stuff that I used to watch as a kid. The stuff I used to watch was better, and if he can say the same thing when he gets to be my age then the art form will be in seriously deep doo-doo. However I had already planned to talk about the Emmys and the decision to use the five reality show hosts nominees as hosts for the Emmys which in its own way shows that something is in seriously deep doo-doo.

I'm not entirely sure what the rationale was for choosing to spotlight the five nominees for "Outstanding Host for a Reality Show or Reality Competition" as hosts for Emmys. That the category was new is scarcely reason enough to make the choice. Of the five reality show hosts – Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, and Ryan Seacrest – only Howie Mandel is really used to working in comedy and before a live audience. Thanks to his work in game shows over the years Bergeron is probably almost as polished as Mandel. For the rest, their skills vary from marginal – Seacrest hosted the Emmys in 2007 and failed miserably – to non-existent in the case of Heidi Klum. Even so the experiment might have worked, or at least functioned adequately, if they hadn't insisted on having more than one of the hosts working at any one time. But – at least during the times when you actually saw the hosts which was increasingly rare as the show continued – the producers insisted on having two or more of the hosts working at a time.

Of course the business with the hosts was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to problems with the Emmy Awards. A certain amount of the problem might have been beyond the control of the producers. A significant number of the nominated shows, performers, writers and directors came from cable series and networks shows that quite frankly were artistic and critical successes but not necessarily seen by a large number of people even in the current climate of reduced audiences. The result would seem to be a reduced number of viewers turning in from the beginning.

Still there were a great many things that the producers of the show did have control over. While the TV networks insist that the Emmys be broadcast live rather than taped and edited, they also insist that the show run to time. The producers know this – or rather should know this since they've been doing the show for years – but still insist on writing stand-alone comedy material like the initial presentation of the hosts or the "tribute" to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. In Fact the Laugh-In tribute may very well have been the worst thing of the night artistically – the jokes were bad, the performers who showed up weren't as sharp as they were thirty years ago (Alan Sues in particular seemed sadly like he was either drunk for real or suffering quite ill) and the whole seemed to have absolutely no purpose. The producers also put jokes in the category introductions for the presenters, most of which actually work better than the stand-alone material. The problem is that as the show rolls on, material increasingly gets cut for time. And it's usually not the stand-alone stuff but the presenter material. By the end of this year's Emmys the hosts were never seen (as hosts that is, but I'll get into that in a moment) and the presenters barely had time to be announced, emerge and read the names. No jokes, in fact no preface at all to what they were about to do. I'm not even sure if they showed clips of the nominated shows.

Which brings us to one of the worst excesses of the 2008 Emmys, the presentation of the award for Outstanding Host for a Reality Show or Reality Competition. While the presenters for the Outstanding Drama category were reduced to walking to the nearest microphone, swiftly reading out the names of the nominees and getting out of the way of the thundering herd from Mad Men it took about ten minutes and a commercial break for them to present Jeff Probst with his Emmy in a sort of mock tribal council or some other reality elimination format. Beyond the fact that it was boring as hell and badly presented the worst part of it was the waste of time that could have been used for better material, not to mention for a better category. Even the Outstanding Reality Competition category, which by virtually any measurable standard is the more important category, got short shrift as a result. And for the life of me I don't know why they focused on this particular category.

So what does the Television Academy have to do to make the 2009 Emmys if not more successful at least more palatable? Well, first of all, cut the number of hosts down to one or at most two. Whoever does host the show should be big – Craig Ferguson, or maybe Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer. Second, cut the extraneous stuff to a minimum – the obituary reel, a tribute to some notable show or person and do that with clips – but beyond that just focus on presenting the awards. And when you're doing it, keep the jokes to a minimum, particularly in the "lesser" categories. Those are the ones where the presenter should come out and just announce the names of the nominees. And for heaven's sake, when you time the rehearsals remember that sometimes winners talk longer than the amount of time you allot for them, and that people actually laugh at jokes – even the one's your writers come up with. Take the jokes out in rehearsal so you don't have to cut more and more as the show goes on and the important categories come up. Just my opinion of course, but that might make the whole show a bit more watchable.

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