DeGeneres’ comic touch set standard

Announcement for new host expected midsummer

Whoever steps up to the podium as host of the Emmy Awards will be under the microscope, with immediate comparisons to Ellen DeGeneres.

Industry insiders agree DeGeneres’ performance last year was grace under pressure in what’s known as one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in showbiz. Hosting the 2001 kudocast was particularly challenging: The show had been twice canceled and no one was sure whether the country was ready to fete small-screen celebs.

“No host in history has ever had to work as hard and trust their gut. It’s a tribute to her, to weather the storm and go out in such a splendid fashion,” says Acad of Television Arts & Sciences prexy Bryce Zabel.

One reason DeGeneres was chosen to host the show was publicity-driven: She had a new sitcom on CBS and the network figured it was a good way for people to get acquainted with her.

Eye was in a tough spot, though, as ratings for “Ellen” were already cold by the time the twice-delayed Emmys was broadcast in November and even a generally regarded stellar perf by DeGeneres wasn’t enough to turn the skein’s fate around.

NBC might want to promote a new show by naming an actor from one of its freshmen skeins. Or they can choose someone from an established series who has a rapport with the aud. Either way, an announcement isn’t expected until midsummer.

Magic ingredients

There’s no formula in putting together the traits of a good host but certain qualities remain clear.

“The key is really appreciating what everyone does on television, but obviously the humor and the quirky point of view is important,” says TV helmer Bruce Bilson, who acts as governor of the directors peer group for the Acad. “Underneath all the jokes about what’s going on in the world, it takes a sense of being part of the community and appreciating what we all do.”

“Just look at Ellen last year and that’s the wining package: someone who’s able to connect with the house and the people at home. Plus, you have to be a traffic cop to move the proceedings along,” says John Leverence, the Acad’s awards administrator. “You want a particular tone, and you want the host to be able to comfortably evoke the tone of whatever the producer, the network and the Academy are trying to set. The glove changes from year to year. It’s very customized.”

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