When Emmy took her first bow in 1949, Variety, like the public at large, didn’t quite know what to make of either her or the medium she represented. Would this new industry truly have such a cataclysmic impact on show business, as some were predicting? Even the Emmy statuette itself seemed vaguely threatening: Who was this winged woman holding up her damned electron? Did her presence hint at the imminent demise of the Oscar and the movie industry that it symbolized?
Variety had an easier time accommodating the birth of the Oscar. The Academy Awards started as a freewheeling cocktail party with various semiswackered stars heaping awards on one another. That was something that Variety could handily understand and report on, and we awarded page-one coverage to the event.
We hedged our bet with the first Emmy celebration, however, burying the first awards show on an inside page and describing the Emmy as “Oscar’s kid sister.” Most of the Hollywood community seemed to take a similarly reserved attitude.
Soon, however, the skepticism turned to a warm embrace and the attention became almost parental. Variety applauded Emmy’s subsequent “face lift” in 1965, and when the awards show was beset by ‘bullies’ in 1993, we chided them publicly under the headline “Children, please! Emmy boycott doesn’t benefit anyone.”
In subsequent years, an Emmy has brought fame and success rather than anonymity. Scan a list of the “best drama” winners and you quickly sense the sweep of TV history from “Playhouse 90” through “The Defenders” and “Hill Street Blues.” The comedy winners take you through “Red Skelton” and “I Love Lucy” to the glory days of “The Golden Girls.” It’s a reminder of how long TV has been with us that names like Gertrude Berg and Alan Young evoke but a vague flicker of recognition.