Emmys

The show onstage was almost an afterthought compared to the pre-show hoopla.

The battle over the Emmy Eight, and whether those trophies would be presented on-air, underlined the delicate balance between a kudocast’s two mandates: honoring contenders and entertaining TV viewers. From inside L.A.’s Nokia Theater, it was clear there’s an added question: Are attendees there to support colleagues, to schmooze (See old friends! Make new ones!) or to basically be seat-fillers at a TV taping? In truth, it’s all three, and the show onstage was almost an afterthought compared to the pre-show hoopla and the commercial-break action.

For much of the evening, the in-theater aud had the same viewing experience as those watching the CBS broadcast, as Nokia folk tended to ignore the action onstage and instead watched two jumbo screens. (It’s like a home-viewing party, but with 7,100 guests.) However, a laundry list of thank-you’s and awkward patter by presenters are equally boring whether seen onstage or onscreen.

The audience members politely stayed in their seats during the first few commercial breaks. But with each subsequent break, there was increasing action. Many bolted for the bathrooms or the bars and stayed in the noisy, jam-packed lobby for hours to chat.

Others remained in the theater, strolling the aisles to visit with pals during breaks, whipping out their Blackberries or surreptitiously nibbling on power bars. (It’s around seven to 10 hours between leaving the home and returning, so it’s a long time between meals.)

The two hours preceding the show involved a security gantlet for cars, then another for foot traffic, a lengthy zig-zag up the red carpet and ushers giving conflicting directions. At each step, guards loudly ordered, “Keep moving!”

Finally, guests were herded into a small holding pen in the lobby and, even though 60 minutes remained until air time, they were told to quickly take their seats. A few minutes before the show’s start, exec producer Don Mischer entreated people to stop chatting in the aisles and sit down. As with all other commands, the industry crowd smiled and ignored the orders. We’re Hollywood, we’re exempt from normal rules.

Auds at home probably missed the full effect of Steve Bass’ spectacular set, featuring an onstage band and control room, and constantly sliding panels featuring multiple projections. And a few moments, like the dance number led by the “Dancing With the Stars” duo, were a lot of fun in person.

In general, the show was a marked improvement over last year’s, but that’s not saying much, since that edition, fronted by multiple reality-show hosts, was one of the low points in the annals of Hollywood’s kudocasts.

Host Neil Patrick Harris worked the house and the mega-crowd lapped it up, though he’d be wise to cut back on his Mr. Cool wink-wink delivery occasionally: A little smirking goes a long way.

The 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards: From the Nokia Theater

Nokia Theater, downtown L.A.; 7,100 seats

Production

A presentation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, produced by Don Mischer Prods. Executive producer, Don Mischer; producers, Charlie Haykel, Neil Patrick Harris; co-producer, Danette Herman. Director, Glenn Weiss; writers, Joe Kelly, Paul Greenberg, Bill Grundfest, Jon Macks, David Wild. Running time: (from leaving the house until return): 7-10 HOURS.

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