Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Belated Emmy Round-up

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." That's how I felt about the Emmys.

I know, I know, quoting Dickens when writing about an awards show is sort of trite, although I suspect that if Dickens were alive today he'd be writing for TV. The magazines that he wrote for in his day were the episodic mass entertainment media of the day, delivering serialized stories for those who couldn't or wouldn't go to plays but probably patronized Vaudeville and Music Hall. Still whether or not Dickens was writing for TV, I do feel that he wouldn't have anything to do with awards shows except as a recipient. Sunday's Emmy Awards was a show that gave us the best of times and the worst of times.

So why did I use that quote? Well, I used the quote because there were times when the show worked for me, times when it was fun and it flowed. But there were other times too, when I was ready to throttle several of the people associated with the entire endeavour. The fact that the worst of it pretty much coincided with the Movie and Miniseries categories – aka the "let's honour HBO for being the only people to continue to make this sort of stuff" segment of the show – is not really the point. There were tons of problems with the show and the way it was paced and put together. It was a show of parts rather than one that really flowed well. On the whole it made the show a big disappointment.

The show got off to a reasonable start with a musical number featuring host Jimmy Fallon several of the young cast members from Glee and an assortment of actors from other shows, including (but not limited to) Tina Fey, John Hamm, Joel McHale and Jorge Garcia, all singing so reasonably well that one wonders if the Autotune equipment was deployed. Fallon even did a reasonably good Bruce Springsteen riff at the end... or maybe he was just lip-syncing. No matter it was an energetic start to the proceedings, but then one of the symptoms of the problems that I was going to have with the whole thing surfaced. We had Fallon with an acoustic guitar, assisted by Amy Poehler, introducing the Comedy portion of the show. And I don't mean that they were doing humour at the beginning of the show. We had Fallon "paying tribute" to the three big shows that that left the air this year, 24, Law & Order, and Lost by doing parodies of various musicians. To show how out of touch I am, the only one that I recognised was the Elton John tribute to 24 I had to discover later that the Law & Order tribute was Boyz II Men and the Lost tribute was Green Day. Now pardon me if I'm wrong but aren't those references all nostalgia but just nostalgia for different people? No matter my tolerance for musical Fallon is apparently quite low.

Something else that annoyed me was the whole idea of the "Twitter introductions." These were introductions to some of the presenters that were supposedly written by ordinary decent civilians like you and me who submitted them using Twitter, I suppose in the hope that the show would seem hip and involving for the viewers by embracing social media. Look, I already know that Hollywood is embracing the whole social media thing because they've got an entire show inspired by a Twitter feed on the Fall schedule ($#*! My Dad Says), but it's a fact that most of the people posting on Twitter aren't as funny as the guy whose posts inspired $#*! My Dad Says, and if you needed any proof you had it in the lame intros that the public submitted (or supposedly submitted). And these were the ones that someone involved in the show thought were funny! Can you imagine the ones they rejected?!

I mentioned that I had a low tolerance for musical Jimmy Fallon. I also seem to have a very low tolerance for Ricky Gervaise. This time around he came out to present the award for Outstanding Musical Comedy or Variety Show, a category that has basically become the catch-all for the late night talk shows since nobody is doing primetime variety or even variety specials anymore, and he riffs on the idea that the show needs for people to be drinking. Maybe then things would get more exciting, presumably in the hope that someone would say something outrageous that the FCC would want to fine NBC for (but can't at least until the Supreme Court rules on the decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals – and no Gervaise didn't go into that, that was mine). It's what goes on at the Golden Globes (which Gervaise is hosting this year). Setting aside the fact that this is a fairly serious event and would there be an open bar at the British version of this, the BAFTAs, the fact is that I thought that Gervaise was allowed to go on too long without being that funny (certainly not as funny as he thought he was) in a show that is inevitably tight for time.

One other thing that I found a bit annoying was the way that they handled the writing and directing categories in all four genres (Comedy, Drama, Musical Comedy & Variety, and Movies & Miniseries). Instead of announcing the names of the writers, the producers tried to replicate the vibe that the Musical Comedy & Variety writers and producers get up to with their short productions naming the (many) people who participate in putting their shows together. They asked the writers and directors questions and aired the answers. Some of the answers were humorous, but not all of them. That was part of the problem with doing it this way – some of the nominees didn't bring the funny – but the big thing was that I just didn't get the names of the people who won. I want to know the names of the people who win, and if you feel the need to have something under the announcement of the names, include clips of the show instead.

There were good things about the broadcast. In fact if I'm going to be absolutely honest the good things outweighed all but the worst of the bad things. For one thing Fallon and the producers seemed quite intent on running a tight show and showing the world that they were running a tight show. From time to time at the cutaways they showed a clock that indicated where they were in terms of run-over. The longest time of run-over that the clock showed – or that they showed on the clock – was 1:56. Not one hour and fifty-six minutes but one minute and fifty six seconds. And from that point the run-over decreased and by the end of the night I was under the impression that they were just slightly short. The better part of this is that they were able to pull this off without making whatever cuts they made in the running time without making those cuts seamlessly. It never felt like massive amounts of material was dumped, and as far as that part goes it flowed well. I suppose that they were helped by the fact that George Clooney's speech accepting the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award (the Hopes were friends of his Aunt Rosemary) was short but nonetheless a heartfelt call for people to keep giving even when the disaster of the day has left the headlines, because the need was still there. There was also time for some good material. I was particularly impressed with the comedy bit done with eventual Outstanding Comedy winner Modern Family that culminated with Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet together with George Clooney (who was a good sport about the whole thing). The use of John Hodgeman as a back stage announcer, giving "humorous" opinions about the winners of various categories as they made their way to the stage, was good if expected. After all he's been doing this for the past three episodes or so.

Which brings me to the biggest problem I had with the show and it's a big one. One of the things that I learned when I was running my old Diplomacy zine was laying out a page. I wasn't great at it but I did alright. Setting the running order of the awards is the equivalent of doing layout on a printed page, and in this case I think that they producers of the Emmy's did a lousy job. They did a lousy job – in my opinion – because the segregated the categories by genre. Thus you had all of the comedy awards that were given out on Sunday night (except the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, which was the last one presented on the night) all together, followed by "all" the Reality Emmys (all one of them!?) presented together and so on. That was a real problem for me and, if the ratings are to be believed, for a lot of people. According to Marc Berman of Media Week viewership for the last half hour of the Emmy Awards dropped from 11.21 million to 9.37 million. The last half hour of the Emmys roughly coincided with the grouping of all the Movie & Miniseries Emmys, or as I like to call it, the "Let's pat HBO on the back for doing the stuff that Network TV can't make pay and is afraid to do anyway" portion of the Emmys. And why would they. If we accept the premise that most Americans either only watch Broadcast TV or watch Broadcast TV and a selection of basic cable channels but don't subscribe to a premium service like HBO, then why would they be interested in watching Temple Grandin and You Don't Know Jack sweep through the awards in this category like Sherman swept through Georgia. Only slightly more absurd than the fact that there was only one Reality show category in the Emmys and yet there was a whole section of the awards ceremony devoted to Reality Show is the fact that there were only two entries in the mini-series category. People skipped this part of the ceremony in droves, I suppose preferring to watch the end of the pre-season football game on FOX.

Ah I can hear people say, but how else can you do it? If you only put the big categories at the end of the show won't people tune out and just catch the big awards at the end? That's what defenders of the way the show was set up this year are saying. The fact is that you don't have to present all of the big awards at the end of the night. Why can't you mix up the categories and present the award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy right after Outstanding Writer Movie or Mini-series and just before Outstanding Reality-Competition Series. You can still have the clip pieces about the year in TV Drama or Comedy or what have you but they don't serve to demark sections of the show. There are really only two awards that have to be at the end – Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series – but otherwise they can pretty much be presented in whatever order works for the producers, and people will keep watching because they won't know when a category they'll really be interested in will be coming up. But that's just my opinion.

Turning to the awards themselves, it was a big night for Modern Family, winning in the Writing category as well as for Supporting Actor in a Comedy for Eric Stonestreet, and the Outstanding Comedy Series award. Where it didn't win was in the two lead categories where the show had no one entered, and in the Directing and Supporting Actress categories where everyone knew that Jane Lynch was going to win for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester. (Interesting note – both Jane Lynch and Eric Stonestreet had minor speaking parts in third season episodes of The West Wing: Lynch was a reporter in the press room and Stonestreet was one of White House Council Oliver Babich's assistants.) As the blog poll predicted Jim Parsons won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, but the bigger story is that the Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy went not to the poll's preferred actress Amy Poehler but to perpetual Emmy favourite Edi Falco. It seemed to come as a shock to her, because she claimed in her acceptance speech that "I'm not funny." And while that may be her self-deprecating way of saying that she herself isn't funny it sticks with the sense of a lot of people that her show isn't funny. Also in the realm of surprises was that Kyra Sedgwick won the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama after her fifth nomination. I would like to note for posterity that our Emmy poll had a three way tie in this category and still failed to name the winner in a six woman race. I guess that our preferences as fans don't match what the TV Academy is looking for.

Despite the fumble with the Outstanding Actress in a Drama category the poll had a good time at the awards this year, getting not only Parsons and Modern Family but also the Reality Competition winner. You guys picked Top Chef when I was sure that The Amazing Race would win a seventh award despite a lacklustre season (but I still contend that this last season of Survivor had it over both shows and has only been nominated once in this category since they started giving Emmys in it). The Emmy for Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad was, despite the poll's support for Michael C. Hall, less a case of Emmy Entropy than it was a case of the Academy getting it right and rewarding outstanding work. The same can be said of the award for his Breaking Bad co-star Aaron Paul in the Supporting Actor category. Still, it was only in the two Actor categories that Breaking Bad triumphed. Despite, or perhaps because, Mad Men having two cast members (Elizabeth Moss and Christina Hendicks) in the Supporting Actress in a Drama category, it was The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi who won there. Dexter's Steven Shill won as outstanding Director in a Drama series, but it was Mad Men that won the Outstanding Drama Emmy, not poll choice and departing series Lost.

And that's the 2010 Emmy awards. Not the best Emmy show ever and with plenty of room for improvement, but far from the worst Emmy show ever – that "honour" would go to the year the Reality Show hosts hosted. Hopefully whoever has the show next year will learn from the good points and missteps of this year's show. Somehow I doubt it though.

(This article is way late. I'll just give the excuse that I had to go to my brother's birthday party on Monday, and couldn't get much work done during the whole day. It has the singular virtue of being true. This would never have happened if they'd run the show when it's supposed to run - the middle of September. Then I'd have a host of other excuses for being late.)

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