Nominated for an Emmy this year, I went to the show and thought I’d share the experience. But first I should explain that much like the Olympics, the World Series, wars, births, deaths, and other life-defining phenomena an Emmy Awards broadcast is no longer considered a singular event but rather a series of “moments.” (An Emmy moment, by the way, is like a New York Minute, but longer and with higher production values. And it’s nothing at all like a Kodak moment–totally different animal). What follows are my favorite moments from this year’s Emmy broadcast in roughly chronological order.
Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island, you’ve probably already heard by now that Lost won this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Drama. But that wasn’t the only highlight from Sunday night’s kudofest.
First of all I almost didn’t make it to the Emmys on time: I got stuck behind Tony Shaloub at a security checkpoint.
Obviously I’m kidding; that would be racial profiling, which we don’t do here in Los Angeles.
And besides, it was Jimmy Smits.
On the scale of Hollywood awards shows the Emmys combine the anything-can-happen, edge-of-your-seat suspense of the Source Awards with the dignity and class of the Academy of Country Music Awards–not to be confused with the Country Music Association awards, which most decent people consider a vile pig orgy.
Like most Hollywood award shows, the Emmys are all about validation: people in this town will go to almost anything if there’s free parking or, even better, no need to park at all because the studio is springing for a town car.
Fittingly, the evening’s first indelible image, for me at least, was the line of full-sized stretch limousines, stretching, nearly as far as the eye could see, all presumably filled with actors, agents, and producers discussing America’s over-reliance on foreign oil and our collective need to “simplify.” This discussion would resume later in the evening at parties where enormous ice-sculpture statues dispense imported vodka by means of simulated urination.
As the limos converge on the Shrine Auditorium and traffic backs up behind the security bottleneck, Hollywood’s becalmed elite become the captive audience of sign-carrying protesters standing along the route. Most of their placards cite Biblical passages and urge repentance but one guy uses his to pitch himself as a singer-guitarist with one side reading, “Sign Me To A Record Deal!” and the other, “I’ll Score Your Next Movie!” I would have gone with “Will Work On Spec For Food,” but that’s my vision.
The final hurdle before arriving at the Shrine was the Checkpoint Charlie-like search of our vehicle. Long-handled mirrors on wheels were used to look underneath and the trunk was searched, but once the security detail established that Courtney Love was not on board we were waved on through.
Somewhat early in the program Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather took the stage and my first thought was, great, they’re doing a joint apology. Some gesture of atonement for their roles in delivering decades of biased news reporting. The promise, even, of some closure for the American people. What a good idea, I thought. How classy.
But I was wrong.
Instead, Dan and Tom, standing in front of a full-screen image of their late colleague Peter Jennings, delivered a lengthy and undoubtedly heartfelt tribute to…well, to themselves, actually, as longtime paragons of objective, “get-it-right!” journalism. Watching this unfold it occurred to me that I was witnessing the birth of a brand new medium: tele-revison.
I’m told that Rather also expressed interest in handing out an Emmy this year, but that was problematic. Suppose he opened the envelope, disagreed with the voter’s decision, and substituted a “fake but accurate” name in its place? Sure, telling the American people what’s happened in their world every night requires some credibility, but the presenter at a Hollywood awards show has to be someone we can really trust.
Speaking of which, curiously missing from the telecast’s traditional “In Memoriam” montage honoring the recently deceased: “Mary Mapes’s Career.”
Evidence of intelligent design: I counted only one incident of a female member of the acting profession being referred to as an “actor.” But the Academy continues to use sexist categories like “Best Actor” and “Best Actress,” which I hereby propose we change to “Best Actor With A ‘Y’ Chromosome” for male actors and “Best Actor With Two ‘X’ Chromosomes” for female actors. Only then can we tackle the critical challenge of deciding how we should refer to actors in the transgendered community.
For viewers of Sunday’s show the Emmy “moments” were video clips of supposedly memorable incidents from previous Emmy telecasts. In each case we saw a clip of the original moment, followed by the star of the moment’s present day reflections on its importance.
An especially well-received Emmy moment this year was a clip from Dan Quayle’s infamous speech denouncing Murphy Brown for setting a bad example, followed by one of Candace Bergin accepting her (post-Quayle imbroglio) Emmy for playing Murphy Brown. The absence of prolonged booing and hissing at this point was proof positive that we were still in Hollywood. As so many have already observed, Dan Quayle was quite right: Single motherhood is one of the leading, if not the leading, causes of poverty (and its attendant problems) in this country. This is not a conservative perspective, it is a documented fact.
Personally I was always puzzled by the critical and popular success enjoyed by Murphy Brown during its heyday. How such a leaden, joyless exercise in telegraphed “jokes” and wooden performances stayed on the air for ten long, dreary seasons is something I may never understand. But the Quayle/Bergin “moment” offered a possible insight: Perhaps the tsunami of politically correct, if misguided indignation that followed Quayle’s remarks allowed Murphy to stay on the air for several seasons more than it otherwise would have. Which (if true) would make that particular speech, as on-point as it was, the biggest blunder in Quayle’s entire public life–and that’s saying something.
Nominees were evidently cautioned about making any partisan political statements on stage, although I can scarcely imagine a more fiercely partisan political statement than the public admission of being a writer for The West Wing. Even so, the show wouldn’t remain a politics-free zone for long. Blythe Danner concluded her otherwise charming Emmy acceptance speech by angrily sputtering (I paraphrase here) “Let’s bring out troops home from Iraq right now!” I guess Apple’s mother didn’t fall far from the tree.
Emmy winner Jane Alexander also managed a broadside at the current administration during her acceptance speech. Alexander praised Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for being great leaders, and then added (as pointedly as her considerable acting skills allowed), words to the effect of: “At a time when our nation needed great leaders…”
Her message to the 18 million people watching at the time couldn’t have been clearer if it’d been subtitled: President Bush is not a good leader. Not for his amazing post-9/11 performances. Not for his record-shattering spending on education, prescriptions for seniors, or fighting AIDS in Africa. Not for getting unemployment lower than it was when Bill Clinton was re-elected on a “peace and prosperity” platform. Not for reducing the tax burden on every U.S. taxpayer. Not for embarking on a quest so sweeping he might not live to see its conclusion: the transformation of the Middle East into an oasis of democracy. What’s all that compared to the guy who invented Social Security?
Perhaps by “leadership” Alexander means the kind she demonstrated as head of the National Endowment for the Arts during the Clinton years. To paraphrase Judge Judy, don’t pee on my crucifix and tell me that it’s art, Jane. (I know, I know–that didn’t happen on Jane’s watch. But lots of other bad, taxpayer-subsidized art did. Besides, this is satire, and I’m using Michael Moore’s fact-checkers).
As to the legendary after-parties, HBO’s shindig was billed as “Indian-themed” but I found it curiously lacking in any sort of Native American atmosphere. Only later did I realize it was the “Bollywood” kind of Indian-themed party-and also realized just how wrong it was of me to ask several waiters where they were keeping the “fire water.”
There was one final, disgraceful Emmy moment from this year’s show to report, one that drives home once again the importance of making sure that every American votes and that every vote is counted: Donald Trump’s performance of in the “Emmy Idol” contest beat a plainly superior performance by William Shatner. Has there ever been a more blatantly rigged election in American history? I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump, do you? And who counted all those votes, anyway? Diebold?
–Ned Rice is a staff writer on the new and improved CBS talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Rice is also an NRO contributor. This was his second Emmy nomination and his second Emmy loss.