Jimmy Fallon managed to sustain a relatively low profile amid NBC’s latenight craziness, but his stint hosting the 62nd Emmy Awards — certain to be compared with Conan O’Brien’s marvelous turn in 2006 — raised an obvious question: Is the “Late Night” host ready for primetime? The answer was only a qualified yes, with Fallon adequately keeping the festivities moving but having a relatively minor impact (Betty White got nearly as much screen time) on what was otherwise a firstrate telecast, aided enormously by the fact Emmy voters came up with a crowdpleasing assortment of choices.
Fallon spent most of the evening emphasizing his musical chops, but you can only go so far strolling through the audience strumming a guitar. His contribution peaked early, actually, with a “Glee”-inspired rendition of “Born to Run” — the best opening in years — and later a sendoff tribute to “Lost,” “24” and “Law & Order.”
The producers were also pretty brilliant to dispense with the obvious joke about O’Brien early — Hey, what could go wrong for a “Late Night” host coming to L.A. and hosting another program?
Still, some of the attempts to tap into Fallon’s younger audience base (a la reading Tweets on-air) felt forced, and repeatedly returning to musical gags only reinforced the sense he’s a narrower talent than his more formidable latenight brethren.
Fortunately for NBC and even more so the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, plenty within the telecast clicked, continuing the momentum established last year with Neil Patrick Harris as host and helping erase the mishandled effort to streamline the show by “time-shifting” a number of awards.
The taped pieces were stronger than usual, including a clever bit involving the “Modern Family” cast. More significantly, the conceit of featuring writing and directing nominees answering wry questions about their craft is a nifty way of showing their faces with value added, since casual viewers aren’t apt to be going “Omigod, that’s Ryan Murphy!”
Structurally, producer Don Mischer has found a terrific way to present the awards in grouping them by genre, opening with comedy and proceeding through reality, drama, variety and longform.
This approach has brought cohesion to the Emmys that was often lacking, and somewhat smoothed the inclusion of less-recognizable categories such as writing and directing. It also provides a logical template to facilitate celebrating the year in television — always one of the Emmys’ stated if more elusive goals.
The Emmys are by nature an awkward construct, and must be assessed with that in mind. Indeed, even the award order was shrewdly calculated, although the show inevitably bogged down about halfway through — at least until Ricky Gervais showed up, providing a shot of adrenaline and passing out beers.
Perhaps foremost, the voters acquitted themselves admirably — reaching out to new faces and mostly lauding deserving repeat winners. They also conveniently spread the wealth around, with major comedy awards going to the broadcast networks, reflecting their resurgence in that arena.
The result was a decidedly muted performance by traditional Emmy darling HBO until longform rolled around two-thirds of the way through the broadcast.
In other intramural political notes, credit “Modern Family’s” Steven Levitan with thanking former ABC Entertainment prez Stephen McPherson and “everybody still at ABC,” while “Mad Men’s” Matthew Weiner likely alienated some peers by beginning his second acceptance speech (having been played off during the first for drama writing) with “So where was I?,” which sounded more egotistical than intended.
For its part, NBC capitalized on the show as a promotional platform — not least of which, those specific Emmy-themed Infiniti spots featuring the cast of “Community.” Amazing how pliable actors can be when their show isn’t a hit.
In terms of pre-shows, “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush quoted my recent column regarding Brandon Tartikoff while interviewing Glenn Close, which compels me to take back every nasty thing I’ve ever written about him and overlook his exchanges with Sofia Vergara (“A lot of people would like to see you naked”) and Jon Hamm (“You’re a very handsome man”).
Nah, not really.