Unlike the other broadcasters that share in televising the Emmys, Fox doesn’t have a latenight franchise from which to draw its host. So the network went with Andy Samberg, a “Saturday Night Live” alum who stars in its admired but relatively little-seen sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
Still, if Samberg has any qualms about the assignment — and his awkward, coolly received performance at the network’s upfront presentation in May did little to stoke enthusiasm — he can take consolation in knowing that what awards-show hosts contribute is invariably overrated and excessively analyzed. Indeed, while hosts might be the most controllable part of the broadcast, on a good night, they’re often one of the least interesting.
Don Mischer, a veteran of producing awards presentations, including this year’s Emmys, put it succinctly at Fox’s press tour session a few weeks ago: “The two things that make the most difference are ‘Who wins?’ and ‘What do they say?’ And as a producer you have absolutely no control over that.”
The host’s material, by contrast, can be massaged, shaped and put in the form of the taped pieces with which Samberg has been associated, which should play to his strengths. Nevertheless, talent as diverse and celebrated as Chris Rock, David Letterman and Jon Stewart have largely been flummoxed by the Oscars, discovering there’s only so much that can be done with what amounts to the 15-20 minutes available to them, given all the obligatory elements that must be served.
As for the emcee part of the gig, the Emmys are even more challenging in some respects. Granted, the audience is smaller, but unlike the Oscars — which often run well past their allotted time — networks don’t afford TV’s biggest awards the same latitude. That means packaged elements are shed on the fly if the show begins to run long.
All major award telecasts, moreover, exhibit tension between being edgy and hip enough to reach younger viewers — the currency of the realm among advertisers — and stately enough to satisfy the organizations that oversee them. Samberg, known for such colorful oddities as his duet “Dick in a Box,” falls squarely into that zone.
The scrutiny also occurs now in real time, meaning Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar ditty “We Saw Your Boobs” was generating blowback practically before ABC reached the next commercial break. Similarly, Ricky Gervais’ acerbic barbs directed toward Golden Globe attendees rankled some, prompting a rejoinder from Sean Penn when he took the stage as a presenter.
Samberg seemed to recognize some of these limitations at that aforementioned press session. When asked about the balance he would seek as a host, he said, “You don’t want to overstay your welcome, but don’t want to do so little that people don’t know you are there.”
Mischer described the host as a “critical element in having fun and making these evenings go quickly,” and that’s true in terms of the writers capitalizing on unscheduled moments that might happen during the course of the evening. Even that, though, speaks to how best-laid plans can fall by the wayside, with spontaneity always the most coveted and elusive aspect of any presentation.
Ultimately, the host’s primary function is to serve as a marketing tool — something that differentiates one year’s Emmys or Oscars from the next, while prompting speculation about what he or she might say and do.
So while the time constraints imposed on the Emmys make it unlikely Samberg will overstay his welcome by much, his contribution will likely boil down to whether there are any truly memorable moments in his, er, box of tricks.