TV Review: 65th Primetime Emmy Awards

Neil Patrick Harris Emmy Hosting
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Playing off even the big names? They do know this is an award show, right?

About halfway through this year’s Emmy Awards, it became clear that the producers were sort of irritated they had to interrupt their variety show with, you know, awards. And that seemed to color the rest of the evening, which featured some fine staged moments but few spontaneous ones, largely because producers were so quick to play everyone off, they didn’t give the show any room to breathe. The late Gil Cates talked about the “award-show gods,” which smile on such telecasts (or don’t) with spontaneous moments. This year’s awards were competent, perhaps, but created scant opportunity for the gods to favor them.

The Emmys — and indeed, all award shows — face an inherent tension between the perceived numbing effect of having people get up and thank their agents, and the showbiz values necessary to attract and hold younger demos.

Emmys Parties Photos: Inside the All-Star Bashes

Still, this is, inescapably, an awards show, and the TV academy has already made significant concessions in terms of crunching on-air categories for entertainment purposes. By the time the show was over, it was hard not to think we could have done with at least one less musical number, or one less memorial tribute, in order to let the winners — including high-profile ones in major categories — actually deliver an acceptance speech without hearing piano music kick in just as they started warming up.

Merritt Wever — a surprise winner for Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” — might have started off the night with the shortest not-exactly-a-speech in award-show history (“Best speech ever,” Harris quipped), but when Tony Hale of “Veep” was played off a few moments later, that proved to be an unfortunate harbinger of things to come.

SEE ALSO: Jeff Daniels Talks Best Actor in a Drama Shocker

Jeff Daniels, Anna Gunn, Bobby Cannavale and Claire Danes — Claire Danes, for heavens sake — all received short shrift, even after Danes devoted the opening portion of her speech to the late Henry Bromell, a winner for writing “Homeland” earlier, who died suddenly in March.

Isn’t the reaction of those performers — joyful, giddy, tearful, self-indulgent, whatever — one of the reasons people tune in, to see stars in unscripted moments? And shouldn’t the academy have some say regarding the not-so-subtle attempt to program the awards out of the ceremony?

Michael Douglas’ coy speech about “Behind the Candelabra” was certainly funny, and he was mercifully given more time than most fellow actors. Yet even a lousy speech potentially provides people more to talk about the next day — if only to mock it — than a musical tribute to the middle of the show, however clever that might be.

SEE ALSO: Michael Douglas Talks Family, Mortality After ‘Candelabra’ Win

Bromell’s wife accepted his award, in a truly emotional moment. Another came when Bob Newhart received a spontaneous standing ovation, after winning his first Emmy — ever — at the Creative Arts Emmys a week earlier.

One can certainly forgive the time devoted to classy memorial tributes to Jean Stapleton, Jonathan Winters, Gary David Goldberg and James Gandolfini, and even accept the demographic pandering of including “Glee’s” Cory Monteith in that rarefied company. Edie Falco’s tearful tribute to her “The Sopranos” co-star, and Rob Reiner’s to Stapleton certainly put a lump in your throat.

SEE ALSO: ‘Breaking Bad’ Knife Fight Was ‘Cathartic’ for Anna Gunn

Of course, some will argue those tributes put a dour tone on the event — a point “Modern Family’s” Steven Levitan registered, cleverly, by saying, “This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we could not be happier.”

Setting that debate aside, there was simply too much flab in the show that could have been put to better use. Elton John and Carrie Underwood delivered fine performances, but the ode to choreography or extended mock public-service announcement about Neil Patrick Harris’ serial-hosting condition (shared with Ryan Seacrest) dragged on. So did a look back at major events of 50 years ago, which would have been fine had it brought anything fresh to the nostalgia.

SEE ALSO: Emmys Draw Largest Audience in Eight Years

Then again, the show got off to a rather uncomfortable start, with CBS’ NFL coverage running into the show, and delaying its start by a few minutes. While it turned out not to be a big deal, the Oscars never have to deal with these kind of little indignities, do they?

In essence, the Emmys couldn’t stand prosperity. There was a promising opening with a fair amount of energy — including a bit in which several former hosts joined Harris on stage. Kevin Spacey then addressed the camera, a la “House of Cards,” suggesting the mess playing out on stage was all part of his nefarious plan.

Never mind that most of the at-home audience probably had no idea what Spacey was doing, since the TV industry has no idea how many people have watched “Cards” on Netflix. It was just peculiar enough to make you think this might be a fun evening, which was abetted by the number of unexpected winners in the early going — and indeed, throughout the evening.

SEE ALSO: ‘Veep’ Actor Tony Hale Stunned by First Win

Being unpredictable is never a bad thing, and award voters also helpfully spread the wealth among a variety of networks. Yet if that’s a prescription to sustain viewers’ interest, the presentation mostly squandered that effect as the night unfolded.

Other staged moments, like septuagenarian Diahann Carroll (still looking pretty dazzling) coming out to fete Kerry Washington, were good ideas that foundered on stage — and feel more aggravating with the benefit of hindsight, when you realize even Stephen Colbert got hustled off as he stepped out of character and warmly thanked Jon Stewart after breaking “The Daily Show’s” gaudy winning streak, along with his wife for being “cruel and sexy.”

Actually, there was someone considerably crueler on Sunday night. And at least this year, the Emmys were a real bitch.

TV Review: 65th Primetime Emmy Awards

(Special; CBS, Sun. Sept. 22, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT)

Production

Broadcast live from Los Angeles and produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures, LLC in association with the Television Academy.

Crew

Executive producer, Ken Ehrlich; producer, Neil Patrick Harris; director,  Louis J. Horvitz. 3 HOURS, 8 MIN.

Cast

Host: Neil Patrick Harris.

Presenters: Malin Akerman, Will Arnett, Stephen Amell, Alec Baldwin, André Braugher, Connie Britton, Dan Bucatinsky, Diahann Carroll, Emilia Clarke, Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Emily Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Douglas, Anna Faris, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Tim Gunn, Jon Hamm, Alyson Hannigan, Mark Harmon, LL Cool J, Allison Janney, Mindy Kaling, Jimmy Kimmel, Heidi Klum, Melissa Leo, Julianna Margulies, Margo Martindale, Dylan McDermott, Bob Newhart, Dean Norris, Jim Parsons, Amy Poehler, Carrie Preston, Cobie Smulders, Blair Underwood, Sofia Vergara, Kerry Washington

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  1. devoted no more says:

    Hey Emmy producer you have it wrong. Allowing another self-indulgent no career to be profiled shows you have no respect for the prolific actors who came before. Shame on all of you for making it a popularity contest. All actors who contribute deserve equal time to be respected. I curse you network with lousy ratings for the season.

  2. Here’s a suggestion for future awards’ show producers: instead of writing inane banter between the two presenters that inevitably always falls flat, have them come out and announce nominees and winner. Then the extra time can be used by actual winners in their acceptance speeches.

    And although I’m a fan of Neil Patrick Harris he should give up his producing these shows and just stick to hosting.

  3. The number by the choreographers was awesome. Enjoyed Tina and Amy rolling onto the stage in the designer dresses and Julia forcing her costar to carry her million dollar bag onstage and then forgetting to thank him for her award. Kevin spacey also entertaining and so darn cute. Actors should be given the time to get their barrings and thank their kids and dog if they want. I always felt like the majority of the entertainers enjoyed being televised, but if they would prefer an award ceremony off camera so they have time to give a 30 minute speech and be at ease while doing so, then the networks should stop televising the event.

  4. Joe says:

    John Wayne said at the first oscar broadcast. “welcome to OUR party” Now all go and cry about who you do or don’t like. It isn’t about you. If it weren’t televised there would be no time limit nor reason to constantly entertain the simple minded.

  5. David Shapiro says:

    Second Screens are going to change the Award Shows but knows it yet.

  6. Laura Brann says:

    I thought the whole show was poorly done from the host on down. The show seemed to focus on Neil instead of the Emmys. The first 10 minutes set the pace with an unnecessary bunch of bunk,to me. Neil made several blunders and didn’t seem to know where he was part of the time. The best part of the whole show was when Derek Hough won the Emmy for best choreographer. Many categories were left out to the public such as soap operas, game shows, etc. I found it rather rude that the music played so loud, ushering the speakers to finish their thank-you’s. Most all the winners were from shows on channels many of us don’t even get on our TV. There should have been more of the shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX chosen. I hope before another year, somebody changes the format of the show and the host.

  7. Ed says:

    The groundswell reception Bob Newhart received was validation that those nominated and winning in his category, relegated to the Creative Emmys, need to be part of the regular Emmys. The nominees and winners are many times more interesting, deserving and beloved, than many nominated and winning that we get year to year on the regular Emmys. It would also break up the boring monotonous Emmys and the tedium of the same nominees every year as they are only in an episode or recurring in only some episodes of their shows. Seeing Newhart was one of the highlights of this horrible Emmy show, a TV Icon, made into a side bar… but the audience told the producers (including ‘I can do it all’ Mr. Harris) he was so much more. HE should have hosted this nap of show.
    And Jack Klugman, whose career goes back to the early days of TV, and had two huge hits spanning many years on TV.. snubbed for a young actor who died tragically of an overdose? And then Jane Lynch proceeds to talk about that when memorializing him? Does anyone have any taste anymore??
    This mess of an award show needs a total overhaul before the next one.
    And if the winners are given that miniscule amount of time again, compared to all the time a Host is given, they should tell producers they’d rather stay home.

  8. An excellent review that is right on the money. Those running the Emmys this year came off as very inexperienced.

  9. Bill Miller says:

    Thank you Brian. You are the only reviewer who mentioned the (loud) music rudely speeding the winners off the stage. After wasting so much time with the ridiculous and very UNfunny opening bit, that went on forever, the extremely self promoting ‘How I Met Your Mother’ long winded bit about Harris’s hosting addiction ( it is high time he get into a 12 step program if need be, and give it up!) , making this a show about Neil Patrick Harris HOSTING instead of honoring good work in TV and the nominees and the winners. Then THEY get scooted off the stage, their big shining moments just a little blip, and intrusion on the NEIL PATRICK HARRIS SHOW. His comment after Merritt Weavers very brief response to winning win was very telling. And RUDE. He forgot WHO this show was about. NOT HIM.If ALL winners made it that short he could have fit in yet another stupid dance number. The Academy really needs to get on this and make sure this light weight is never hosting again. WHERE are the HEAVY WEIGHTS in the TV industry? This is the best they can get? The opening bit, another ‘all about hosting’ bit showed how bad the crop of hosts have been for this show. The last bit with Will Ferrell made it clear HE would do a better job. Or John Ham..He is classy AND FUNNY! And the fact that he is the Susan Lucie of the EMMYS…. get HIM to HOST! He is great at making fun of all of this.. What about Kevin Spacey hosting them? Do the producers (Harris was one) think The Emmys need to have this YOUNG, sort of can dance, sort of can sing, is on a sort of funny but mostly boring show, to get young viewers? They obviously missed the mark. Did he have a contract that gave him things to do that highlight him over the award nominees and winners this much? I never thought one way or another about Harris but after this nightmare I think he must be the biggest egoed demanding actor in the business who ruined the show with all of him all the time. He is not that special! Our daughters got up and left the room when he started the stupid middle of the show dance number.. They had enough of him. The low points were the self promoting how i met your mother cast looking very uncomfortable and who cares about his hosting addiction. The show is NOT about the host. And the ‘time filler’ middle of the show dance number..filled to much time and then the award recipients were ironically given NO TIME for speeches.
    We noticed during the credits that Harris produced it. Maybe that was the problem!
    Please shew HIM off the Emmy Award stage and never have him back again.
    The snubs to Klugman and Hagman were unforgivable as was Lynch mentioning Monteith’s drug addition.
    Next time tell the audience to NOT applaud when the memorial tributes are made and the photos of the departed come up on screen. That was the cherry on the cake of complete and utter tackiness and bad taste.
    This show should be memorialized as the worst award show in history!

    • Emma says:

      The worst award show ever… Interesting , no frustrating, that a TV Award show could be the worst TV ever..Make that the last year for Harris, please..Get David Letterman or someone else funny and classy who does not have to keep trying to prove he can sing and dance and bore everyone. Maybe that is the way TV is going. With all the reality shows and junk now actually honored. The same old nominees and winners every year. . At least it was not given to a totally British show this year which should NOT be allowed. Or create a ‘foreign TV show” category. The best part of the night was the big surprise of the best actor in his category, Jeff Daniels, actually winning, and it suddenly was not a popularity contest. And he was an AMERICAN ACTOR! Not a BRIT! ‘Newsroom’, ridiculously overlooked, should have been nominated and should have won everything.
      The Emmy show itself was just bad on every level ..
      And please, they should have allowed the winners some of the time given to Harris for their speeches!

  10. Daryle Gardner-Bonneau says:

    I found it refreshing to have something different…and not the same-old, same-old. There were some misfires, and Carrie Underwood was definitely NOT at the top of her game last night. But spreading the awards wealth was wonderful. For me the best surprise of the evening was Jeff Daniels, who truly earned that Emmy for his terrific work in The Newsroom. It certainly blindsided the media, who ALL failed to predict it, but it was great to see the industry recognize a really exceptional performance when they saw one. It’s tough to do an awards show to make everyone happy, and some folks are a being a bit tough on this one, I think. In half a century of watching these things, I’ve certainly seen A LOT worse.
    But what I wish everyone would realize is that it’s not long acceptance speeches viewers don’t like, but its long, BORING thank-you-filled acceptance speeches. The best ones are those in which the recipient says something memorable, funny, or especially heartfelt and personal. They need to remember that there’s a huge audience out there, and it doesn’t consist of industry insiders for the most part.

  11. carol hartley says:

    It was so boring.. and Neil Patrick Harris was rediculously NOT funny.. I turned to another TV show after 30 minutes of this!!!

  12. Tom Shales says:

    Oops, tried to post a comment & ye olde iPad, true to form, went crazy. So BRIEFLY just want to say Brian is The Best amongst reviewers — and I admire him for keeping his cool. The only time I would have blown my top — were I still reviewing daily — was when Jeff Daniels beat out Cranston & the other nominees for best-acting Prize. Surprises are great but not when they are INSANE. And to make it even worse, Daniels brandished his usual “who gives a crap” attitude, making the prize seem even more undeserved. What a sodden downer the whole show turned out to be — oh Auntie Em(my)!!!

  13. Frank Cohen says:

    This was a horrible waste of 3 hours plus for me and my familty. The memorials were sgiort but to honor someone who was an unreformed drug addict and who took his life….this was not the place for it. Harris did a much better job on the Tony’s.

  14. Jeanne Wolf says:

    Brian- you summed it up….some great moments…but no one behind the scenes seemed to be aware that the pacing had to be switched as the show went on…those events are soooo hard to pull off–the few winners who were allowed to speak actually broke the “thank my agent” mold….The TV Gods are blushing-they showed up but the right people didn’t notice their arrival.Jeanne

  15. Joe says:

    The show was pretty dreadful we stopped watching after the halftime show, so much garbage then a little award. I also can’t believe they did some regular awards at a show last week. The 50 yr lookback was a waste of time and Carrie Underwood was dreadful. Just bad all around

  16. Jacques Strappe says:

    Apparently the African American presenters are the high profile help to hold the statues but never the winners. It would have been awesome to see the gorgeous and talented Kerry Washington win instead of Claire Danes again (even though Ms Danes is very talented, too). Was Diahann Caroll the last minority to win an Emmy a few decades past? Overall, not the most interesting Emmy’s show.

  17. Alexandra says:

    An absolute crashing bore; Neil Patrick Harris seemed embarrassed if not bewildered…

  18. Kim Reed says:

    Brian, once again you are dead-on right about the show.

    • Totally agree. The Oscars do it much better, allowing the bigger award recipients a lot more time to speak. It’s embarrassing when even your best actor and actress awards for drama get cut off after two minutes. Lowry is absolutely right that they sucked all spontaneity out of the show. They made the receiving of the awards into a total irrelevant bore.

      • Laura Brann says:

        I think EVERY recipient should have the same amount of time for their thank-you’s. One problem with this type of show is this issue of people taking too long to get their “5-minutes of fame!!”

  19. joe says:

    am i the only one who doesn’t get those openings?

  20. brandon says:

    Completely agree. Equally awkward: When Diahann Caroll implored voters to consider Kerry Washington–and then she (of course) lost, because not a single minority stepped to the stage as a winner. Is it really 2013? The media buries the story about race and television over and over again–or have they simply given up the idea of recognizing minority actors on television as a lost cause now…

  21. Oh Kay can anybody say Rankie Scankie? Wow this show just reeked.

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