Emmy, you’re no Tony. The Broadway telecast took home two awards — one for direction and one for best variety special — in categories this Emmycast flubbed repeatedly. Emmy’s 51st gala suffered from one inadequate host, marginal live bits and a general listlessness that permeated introduction speeches.
Last year’s strong 50th anniversary telecast proved a hard act to follow. While they did toss in a look at the year’s five most “memorable moments,” the idea that “Friends’ ” Ross and Rachel should top the death of “NYPD Blue’s” Bobby Simone is absurd. And besides, wasn’t everybody talking about “The Sopranos?” As a reflection of television, the Emmys once again rest on the laurels of familiarity — television audiences were treated throughout the night to the David E. Kelley front row gathering of “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” casts.
Tone of the evening began hushed with hosts Jenna Elfman and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce in powder blue unitards doing an interpretative dance of various show titles; it was thankfully brief. Presenters and recipients alike took that as a hint as many comments were short and relatively emotion free. Only “Frasier” writer Jay Kogen showed any flair for comedy; “The Practice’s” Holland Taylor was the evening’s sharpest recipient; the acceptance act of Joel Stillerman and Ted Demme was by far the most creative.
As a live event, kudoscast was lacking in fireworks, save for the real ones that went off at the show’s close. Standouts were few: Martin Short, who brought his Tony to the podium, had a consistently funny speech; Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt demonstrated the benefit of having true chemistry rather than having a duo attempt to read lines and finish each other’s jokes. Even the talented “Sex and the City” cast gave a stilted intro.
But questionable decisions ruled the evening. Director Louis J. Horvitz continually scanned the audience to find someone — anyone — to put onscreen who could relate to what was happening onstage. Gil Cates, who one would figure is not recognizable in, say Denver or Boston, was shown after the clip of Roberto Benigni picking up his Oscar. After Short mentioned Shelly Winters, the camera went to Kathy Bates. Good thing, no one mentioned Karen Carpenter or Horvitz would’ve had a real challenge.
Also questionable was the inclusion of God and Charlie Sheen among the individuals who died this year along with “South Park’s” Kenny. Then there was Elfman’s patchwork dress — talk about questionable — over which the camera caught her tripping on the way to the podium. Oh, if that had been her only slip-up.
Elfman was overbearingly obvious in her attempts at humor. She slurred a word and played it off as a drunk; she introduced Brandy by quoting the old Looking Glass hit and tearing up; and, worse yet, her diction left much to be desired. For an actress with such precise timing on her sitcom, Emmy night was a real Dharma bummer.
Hyde Pierce, who delivered one of the snappier acceptance speeches, was far sharper, his stern retorts straight out of basic Niles Crane schtick.
Show had been billed as having the theme of “the future of television,” though the topic wasn’t discussed until one hour and 40 minutes in. Even then, Bill Maher’s discourse was filled with inane jokes and the vision of the future presented seemed mighty close to attainable today.
Filmed bits were the show’s lone saviors and almost all of those were loaded in the front half of the three-hour show. Almost all of them were creative and spirited: The hilarious category introduction for writing for a variety or music program featured body bags, pimps ‘n players, animal attacks and Tony Soprano; Felicity stuck in the predicaments of “NYPD Blue,” “X-Files” and “ER”; and Jon Stewart playing a disgraced writer on “Dawson’s Creek,” who “ET” discovered lied about his age to get a writing gig. Perhaps the Riley Weston story is a bit too inside Hollywood for much of America but the writing, production and acting was pinpoint sharp. The biggest disappointment is that that crispness couldn’t be carried over to the live portion.