Why are the Emmy awards so awful?
That was the cry wrung from my disbelieving lips midway through Sunday night's 60th annual Emmycast when I realized that a) it had taken nearly 20 percent of the show for the first intentionally funny bit to hit air and b) it was probably going to be the funniest bit in a loong night of uncomfortable television.
And so it was. Results-wise, the winner's circle boiled down to NBC's 30 Rock, HBO's John Adams miniseries, AMC's Mad Men and a bunch of other cable projects most people have never seen. (Props, however, to Mad Men for becoming the first basic cable TV series to win as best drama.)
And by arranging for the first-ever nominees as best reality show host to lead this clumsy, ill-advised evening, the Emmy academy not only proved why they should never have created the awards category in the first place, they also had all five hosts on hand when a show none of them appear on won as best reality show (The Amazing Race, in its sixth consecutive win).
If only that were the most absurd moment of the evening. There was the horribly unfunny opening, in which the hosts talked about nothing for 10 minutes -- ensuring the show was so behind schedule that when winners wanted to say something that was actually interesting, they were played off by the band (Glenn Close) or just cut off in midsentence (John Adams writer Kirk Ellis).
Co-host Howie Mandel couldn't help talking about himself every time he opened his mouth, wasting time with a pointless joke about his role on the medical drama St. Elsewhere; a bit with the surviving members of the classic comedy show Laugh-In proved how much TV comedy has improved since they left the air; and some bright-eyed production person forgot to turn on Vanessa Williams' microphone when she announced the nominees for best dramatic actress.
But it was Josh Groban's interminable take on classic TV theme songs that most summed up the shape of the evening -- a risky performance that was briefly brilliant (South Park), mostly mortifying (Love Boat, Gilligan's Island) and occasionally inexplicable (The Addams Family has no lyrics?).
The biggest awards -- 30 Rock as best comedy and Mad Men as best drama -- were expected, as was Tina Fey's win as best actress in a comedy, Alec Baldwin's best comedy actor victory and John Adams' sweep in the major miniseries categories. But the win by Bryan Cranston (right) as best dramatic actor on AMC's Breaking Bad was both unexpected and welcome -- more critics didn't acknowledge his amazing work as a cancer-stricken, meth-cooking high school teacher in Emmy prognostications because we never figured he had a chance.
Glenn Close's win as best dramatic actress on FX's legal drama Damages also wasn't too surprising -- she was the biggest star among the nominees. But Samantha Who's Jean Smart as best comedic supporting actress? Damages' Zelko Ivanek as best supporting dramatic actor? At times, it seems the Emmy academy handed out statues by putting names in a hat and drawing lots.
It seemed no coincidence that the real comedians provided most of the magnetic moments onstage: Ricky Gervais demanding an Emmy he won last year from The Office's Steve Carell, who accepted it for him; Jimmy Kimmel turning to the five hosts and asking the crowd "Haven't they been sufficient, everybody?"; Conan O'Brien declining to tell any more jokes "because Katherine Heigl told me nothing I wrote was Emmy-worthy'' (okay, it's a really funny inside joke); and Don Rickles noting this after his Emmy win: "It's a mistake ... I've been in the business 55 years, and the biggest award I ever got was an ashtray from the Friars Club."
By the way, why were all these loudmouth Hollywood liberals so afraid to take political shots during the Emmycast? Laura Linney's shout-out to community organizers was coolly subtle, and Stephen Colbert's insistence that "America needs a prune ... this dried-up old prune has the experience we need" was side-splitting as usual. But too many other references just made performers look too chicken to say what they really felt -- as if people couldn't guess.
My advice for next year: Please, please, please get an actual performer to host the show and try to hand a few awards to someone besides the latest HBO miniseries and Tina Fey. Otherwise, Emmy may wind up celebrating her 62nd birthday on the USA Network after a Monk rerun.
Click below to see a list of the evening's major winners:
Best comedy -- 30 Rock (NBC)
Best actor, drama -- Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)
Best actress, drama -- Glenn Close, Damages (FX)
Best actor, comedy -- Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC)
Best actress, comedy -- Tina Fey, 30 Rock (NBC)
Best actress, miniseries -- Laura Linney, John Adams (HBO)
Best miniseries -- John Adams (HBO)
Best made for TV movie -- Recount (HBO)
Best reality TV show host -- Jeff Probst, Survivor (CBS)
Best variety performance -- Don Rickles
Best supporting actor, drama -- Zelko Ivanek, Damages (FX)
Best supporting actress, drama -- Dianne Wiest, In Treatment (HBO)
Best supporting actor, comedy -- Jeremy Piven, Entourage (HBO)
Best supporting actress, comedy -- Jean Smart, Samantha Who? (ABC)