Sunday’s Emmycast proved — once again — that awards shows just don’t know when to stop. Each of the best show Emmy Award nominees were presented in sanctimonious infomercials; the Academy’s Bryce Zabel made a speech over music to introduce the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award that seemed to forget that the Emmycast is about stars; and the award recipient, Oprah Winfrey, was feted in a video overblown even by Hollywood standards. The 54th annual Emmy Awards needed something at the midway point to raise it out of its slumber — and it required host Conan O’Brien wrestling his former sidekick to bring it back to earth.
Except for the occasional serious segment, awards shows work best when the tone is light. This year’s Emmycast struggled with its tenor — should it be as low key as last year’s or a return to joviality is a question that never found an answer before hitting the airwaves. Inconsistent writing was a big problem, so much of it flat except when O’Brien was delivering a witty observation. The problem was highlighted when the memoriam section turned to Larry King to deliver an introductory course on Milton Berle . . . and then turned silly with a goofy slap in the face of a makeup powderpuff.
In the show’s loftiest moment, Winfrey gave an acceptance speech that was big and full of hope, passion and commitment; like the videotape before it, it might have been too big, but at least she expressed a forward-looking sentiment that suggested she has a commitment to doing more with her life.
O’Brien was the show’s workhorse: The fun and energy of the opening segment involving O’Brien and the Osbourne clan gave the show a solid start, even if it did prove to be an anomaly in the toned-down proceedings. The opening monologue had the appeal of his late-night routines — he skewers by approaching a subject from odd angles and hitting it with varying degrees of toughness, including himself. Network execs allegedly told him to develop a love interest during the show, and he proceeded to make it funny (though it took facial tics and a video of him horseback riding with Garry Shandling.)
O’Brien commended the Academy for making him the first Catholic host and he would later get around to gently joking about gays, Lutherans and crooked accountants. He threatened to play on guitar Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”; he remembered when he knew he could make people laugh — “sometime during his third season” — and when he suggested that the televisions on the stage be turned to “The Sopranos,” he probably was striking a prescient note for the folks at home.
Show will be a good case study of when and how long to let the folks onstage speak. The odd pairing of Frankie Muniz and Robert Wuhl proved deadly dull in a sea of under-rehearsed presenters given lackluster material. When Rudy Giuliani sounds forced you know you have a problem.
Awards shows should consider giving an award to Michael Ovitz — writers have gotten so much mileage out of “gay mafia” wisecracks that it feels like his Vanity Fair comment may never die. Otherwise, Hollywood insider jokes were kept to a minimum
In the sea of montages to showcase the various best show nominees, Larry David offered the greatest insight wondering why people would watch “this idiotic interview when they could be watching the show I worked on for months.” Enough said.