Emmy Telecast’s Fate Rests on the Speeches of its Winners

If first-time Emmy host Seth Meyers takes to the stage Aug. 25 and begins belting out a well-known TV theme song or performing a little soft-shoe, just know that something has gone horribly awry during the telecast.

“If I sing and/or dance that is a good sign that it’s going so badly that I’ve had a nervous breakdown,” Meyers says. “I promise, if you see me dancing, you will also see a pair of dead eyes.”

Instead, Meyers says his previous hosting gigs at the White House Correspondents Dinner and the Espy Awards have taught him that it’s always best to play to his strengths, singing and dancing not being two of them.

“I always feel like I’m as good as my jokes,” he says. “We’re really focusing on having a strong monologue to open the night, (with) a couple of filmed pieces in the middle, and then leaving space to comment on the night as it goes.”

Like every host who has come before, Meyers is charged with ushering viewers and audience members through a three-hour show that hands out more awards than the Oscars. It’s a two-part task that involves keeping the evening moving while giving the winners their moment in the spotlight. Executive producer Don Mischer, a kudofest veteran, says Meyers’ live-TV background makes him an ideal guy for setting the right pace.

“Four years ago, when we did this with Jimmy Fallon, everything was short,” Mischer says. “His introductions were eight seconds, 10 seconds — things really moved quickly. And it began to permeate the whole room. When people got up there, they spoke succinctly.”

Unlike the Oscars, the Emmys have a hard out at three hours so that local affiliates can begin their 11 p.m. newscasts on time.

“As we go through the show, we make adjustments and change the length of clip packages, we cut speeches, we ask Seth to fill some time if we’re running shorter,” Mischer says.

Mischer says there’s really only fewer than 20 minutes of original content that goes into the average awards show, which means that much of the kudocast is dictated by who accepts their trophies.

“The two most important elements to success in these types of shows is who wins and what they say when they accept,” Mischer says. “Those are the two things that we as producers have absolutely no control over.”

And what the winners say — and how they say it — can make or break a telecast.

“You hope that when people get up to that microphone, they speak from the heart and that they don’t pull out a list of people to thank,” says Mischer, adding that winners can read their lists into the backstage thank-you camera if they forget an important name. “Everybody I know who’s ever produced these shows has tried to get rid of the list. (Producer) Laura Ziskin once, at the Oscars Nominees Luncheon, pulled a list out of her pocket and set it on fire.”

While last year’s Ken Ehrlich-produced telecast received some criticism for its longer tributes to James Gandolfini and Cory Monteith, Mischer says this year will go back to the standard format.

“I understand why Ken felt that he should go in that direction,” Mischer says. “When you watch the minute-by-minute ratings, the In Memoriam segment is one of the most popular portions of the show. We’re going to do one primary In Memoriam segment that will honor a number of people that we’ve lost.”

But the overall emotion of the evening is intended to be celebratory, Meyers points out.

“As somebody who has sat in the audience before, starting to count backwards to figure out exactly how many awards are left, I’m going to try very hard not to do anything important in that last hour that anyone could feel was indulgent,” he says. “We all want to get to the parties.”

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