Growing up in Rockford, Ill., Hollywood seemed much farther than 2,000 miles away.
Before “Extra” and “Entertainment Tonight,” the Emmys were one of the few opportunities for a TV addict like myself to see Carroll O’Connor not as the bombastic, bigoted Archie Bunker, but as an eloquent, gentle actor accepting the ultimate television award. For one night, Danny DeVito wasn’t the feral Louis DePalma, but a humble, intelligent craftsman getting his chance to shine in the spotlight.
I’m sure there were writers and directors and producers who also won awards back then, but it was the faces I recognized that made a lasting impression. As a kid growing up in corn country, I was blissfully unaware of the “Hollywood magic” that went into making a show.
Over two decades later as the creator and executive producer of “The Shield,” I had become acutely aware that Hollywood magic didn’t really exist, just hard work. But despite being excessively proud of our show, the Emmys still seemed 2,000 miles away. So when John Solberg, FX’s perversely optimistic PR guru swore to me we would get multiple nominations, I knew he’d finally cracked.
I’d been too busy working to have seen many of our competitors, but even if I had, how could I possibly be objective? And besides, we were on FX (channel 45 on my cable dial). Viewers had to get past City Council meetings on KLCS just to find us. And so, the night before the nominations were announced, I went to bed, content in the knowledge that maybe we deserved Emmy love, maybe we didn’t, but it wouldn’t be coming and I was just fine with that.
Strangely, I had trouble sleeping that night. I found myself continually looking at the clock. At about 2:30 a.m. I was forced to admit that, OK, maybe I wasn’t so fine with getting ignored.
When Solberg hadn’t called by 5:45, I started silently cursing the Emmy voters who had unjustly … ring!!! It was John. We’d got three nominations. Michael Chiklis for acting, Clark Johnson for directing and myself for writing. My wife, Cathy, was jumping up and down, kissing me, screaming, “I’m going to the Emmys!”
Bask in the glow
At the office, we got no real work done that day. We merely basked. The two months between the nominations and the awards were heaven.
I figured that once the ceremony happened, Michael, Clark and I would just be three in a long line of Emmy losers, but for the next two months we were on equal footing with the Martin Sheens, Alan Balls and Aaron Sorkins of the world. Unbelievable. In the meantime, I was feted (at an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences mixer) and fitted (for a free Hugo Boss tux that ICM had arranged for me).
When the big night finally arrived, Cathy looked gorgeous in her off-the-rack dress and custom necklace. My mother, a schoolteacher in Rockford, had flown in to attend. My brother, Jason, filled out the foursome and as we all piled into the limo we looked at each other as if to say, “Can you believe this?”
It didn’t take long to lose my first Emmy. Drama writing was the fourth award up and Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow won for “24.” A little while later Clark lost in the directing category to “Six Feet Under.”
Moment frozen in time
I was smart enough to spot a trend. So when Kim Cattrall announced that the actor drama Emmy went to Michael … (seemed like forever) …. Chiklis, I paused for a second to make sure I heard right, then leaped to my feet with the rest of my family.
In his speech, Michael thanked me personally. I would find out later that the camera cut to me just as I turned into a quivering mess from this gesture (though despite vicious accusations by my writing staff, I did, in fact, stop short of actual tears).
A short time later, I managed to get an escort to the bowels of the building, where Michael was finishing up his first round of interviews. We saw each other and hugged as dozens of cameras snapped shots. I thanked him for his wonderful work and for bringing honor to a show that we were all so proud of.
Share the wealth
I told him that every writer, director, actor and crew member on “The Shield” would feel like they had a small piece of an Emmy through him. And I told him to enjoy the hell out of it.
As my family and I rode back in the limo toward our house, we were spent, numb. I looked at Jason, thrilled that my only sibling could be with me on this night. I looked at my proud mother. She’d be on a plane the next day back to Rockford, where students at her elementary school would eagerly interview her on her Emmy experience.
And I looked at Cathy, as radiant at the end of the night as she was at the beginning, by my side through the whole thing, comforting when I lost, looking as foolish as I did when Michael won. I held her hand as we crossed over Mulholland and saw the lights of the Valley below.
For one night I’d touched the Emmys and they’d touched me. Of course the kids watching back in Rockford will never remember me. They’ll remember Chiklis and Jennifer Aniston and Ray Romano and Allison Janney. That’s OK. They can learn all about Hollywood magic when they grow up.