Emmy 2011 is officially over and those I talked to at the Governors Ball, HBO and AMC celebrations generally liked it. The consensus is that Jane Lynch was a sharp host, the pace was good and the Mark Burnett-produced show came to life enough times to make it all worthwhile despite the deja vu feeling from repeat winners Modern Family (two years in a row), Mad Men (four years in a row), The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (9 wins in a row) and The Amazing Race (8 wins in the past 9 years). The highlight was when the six nominees for Best Actress in a Comedy Series came on stage as their names were announced and lined up in beauty pageant fashion – before (surprise) winner Melissa McCarthy of CBS’ Mike And Molly was given roses, a tiara and an Emmy. I caught up with McCarthy at the HBO party and she told me it was barely planned. “We had talked about it but when (first nominee) Amy Poehler got up and walked on stage I guess I realized then we were really going to do this,” she said. ”The whole experience was so surreal.
McCarthy has also been winning lots of praise for her scene-stealing performance in the summer smash comedy, Bridesmaids. Universal campaign insiders are telling me they are likely planning a Supporting Actress campaign for her. She was practically speechless when I asked her how she felt about this, but finally said: “If they do it I am all for it. I loved doing that film and working with Kristen Wiig and the rest of the cast. Go for it.”
Before her big moment there was the much-talked about awkward “surprise” appearance of Charlie Sheen. His ex-producer Chuck Lorre and Warner Bros’ Bruce Rosenblum (whose studio produces Two and a Half Men) were among the people who objected to the plan, which Deadline broke, according to Nellie Andreeva’s Sunday post. Academy officials at the Governor’s Ball told me there was great sensitivity to Sheen’s appearance. One top officer said it might be too soon – but they reluctantly agreed after Fox, the network that aired the Emmys, said it was important to have Sheen on. Warners’ Rosenblum (who is running for TV Academy Chair in November) confirmed to me that he did place a call to Fox Network’s Peter Rice to ensure the appearance would be handled in good taste. “I just wanted to make sure there was a five second delay in place at the very least”, he said. Another officer said they had a contingency plan in place for anything that might have gone wrong, but didn’t tell me exactly what that plan was.
There was no need for worry. Sheen was on his best behavior as he came out to present Best Actor in a Comedy Series, the category he lost four times for Two And A Half Men. “From the bottom of my heart I wish you nothing but the best in the coming season,” he told his former co-workers before ironically announcing Jim Parsons, the star of another Chuck Lorre show The Big Bang Theory as the winner. Sheen seemed so contrite that it seemed like someone had a gun to his head if he went off script for a second. Did we say awkward? Whatever spontanaeity or fun this appearance was meant to have was completely lost.
Academy Chair John Shaffner told me he was particularly happy with the In Memoriam segment that featured the Canadian Tenors and that he introduced by singling out the late Stephen J. Cannell. “That was one thing (the producers) actually listened to me on,” he said. The clip tribute to departed TV figures also ended with Cannell. Shaffner said he’s wary about comedy and musical numbers but thought they were just right this time. (I could have done without the Michael Bolton pirate number, guys.) Shaffner says the Emmys is an awards show and that is what it ought to be about first and foremost. That should comfort the writers, directors, and producers of the Movies and Mini-Series categories: They worry the Academy wants to boot them off the show. Shaffner indicated just the opposite. One of the highlights was Modern Family’s Steve Levitan’s funny acceptance for Writing in a Comedy Series. He repeatedly discussed his sex life as cameras caught the less-than-amused reactions of his wife in the audience.
Among the other highlights: Loose cannon Ricky Gervaiswas taped a funny bit about censorship. Justified supporting actress Margo Martindale’s was infectiously gracious during her acceptance speech — as was Peter Dinklage in the corresponding Supporting Actor category (particularly when he thanked his dog sitter). Downtown Abbey’s Julian Fellowes also provided a classy acceptance. Then there was Lynch’s clever intro when she said, “A lot of people are curious about why I am a lesbian. Ladies and Gentlemen: The cast of Entourage.” Lynch, a brilliant improv comedian, was generally spot-on in this gig particularly during the opening musical number in which she showed up on sets of TV shows — and later when she performed in a wickedly clever takeoff of Jersey Shore.
It was also nice to see some shocker wins including Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler for Actor in a Drama Series (Jon Hamm got robbed again for his best season ever on Mad Men) and the absent Barry Pepper’s jaw-dropping lead actor Emmy in a movie or mini for the widely lambasted The Kennedys.
But what was up with the constant flip voice over narrative from announcer Roger Rose every time someone won an award? It was like producer Burnett could not fathom a single moment of silence as winners came to the podium so instead we had to listen to constant inane voice over patter (all of it pre-written according to Rose). Also not so hot was some of the presenter talk and some of the lame presenters whose celebrity credentials I am still trying to ascertain. Identify who these people are and why they are there, Academy.
Also come on, do we really believe there is no show better than The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Amazing Race which dominate their categories every year to the point of complete boredom? It’s a sad commentary on the predictability of these categories when a presenter leads into a list of nominees by saying “Okay let’s see who is going to lose to The Daily Show this year!” And then, of course, The Daily Show wins. Yawn. The Academy has talked about ways to stop the repeat factor but as one officer told me, “who has the cajones to really change the rules?”
It does frustrate those who come every year and leave empty-handed while the same shows win over and over. “I was really disappointed tonight,” American Idol Exec Producer Nigel Lythgoe told me afterwards at the HBO party. Idol has lost to Amazing Race (and Top Chef last year) for a solid decade. “I thought this was our year. We really turned the show around . It’s frustrating. I think the problem is the category . We really are probably seen as more of a variety show,” he said knowing this losing streak will probably keep on happening as long as there are no changes.
Still the Emmys mean a lot to those who win. I walked out to my car with Modern Family’s Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series first time winner Julie Bowen who was still in a state of shock as she held her Emmy tightly next to her husband. “It’s our eighth anniversary tonight. I still can’t believe I am even a celebrity,” she said saying she was sure her Emmy had Betty White’s name on it instead. She also confessed she loves reading Deadline — just as friend and one-time co-star Christopher McDonald passed her on the up escalator while she was headed down. Somehow they managed to french kiss each other right in front of hubby on her anniversary no less. That’s what winning an Emmy will do to you.
One guy who knows a lot about winning Emmys is Mad Men creator Matt Weiner who couldn’t believe he won Best Drama Series for the fourth year in a row, especially when his show only had cashed in one of 18 nominations (for Hairstyling) before that final award was announced. “You know me, I am never speechless but tonight I was speechless,” Weiner told me at AMC’s late night bash at Mr. C Beverly Hills Hotel From Cipriani. It was nearly 1:30AM and the party was just getting started for this exuberant crowd. Apparently it never gets old even when you tend to win every year. Weiner said he was convinced the show was going to lose. It is unusual to just win hairstyling and Best Drama Series but the Emmys are often unpredictable. Although HBO should be happy with eight Emmys including Directing in a Drama for Martin Scorsese for Boardwalk Empire. That show now has the dubious distinction of winning the most Emmys without also taking Drama Series.
With the Emmys over, most of these winners and losers will be back on the set bright and early working on shows that might bring them back to the Nokia Theatre next September. But this is one night some just didn’t want to see end. “My call time for tomorrow got moved to 11:30AM. I can stay a little longer,” Mad Men co-star and nominee Christina Hendricks said. And why not?