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Emmy Shocker: A Broadcast With Suspense and Surprising Wins

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 19th 2011 12:45AM
Many Emmy pundits create lists of "should win" and "will win" picks every year.

This year, it felt like many of the "should wins" did win. It made for -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- a rather delightful Emmy broadcast.

Sunday's Emmy broadcast rewarded so many truly deserving and excited winners from shows like 'Justified,' 'Friday Night Lights,' 'Game of Thrones' and 'Downton Abbey' that it's hard to find much to complain about.

There were a few repeat winners this year, but there was also a lot of fresh blood and well-deserved recognition. When I think back on the broadcast, I won't think about the occasional dead spots, I'll think about Melissa McCarthy's surprise win, Margo Martindale's tears for her 'Justified' Emmy and Kyle Chandler's stunned speech after he won for his great work on 'Friday Night Lights.'

This Emmy broadcast gave some lovely recognition to people who truly deserved it, and Jane Lynch wasn't a bad host, either. All in all, what's usually a three-hour slogfest passed by relatively quickly and mostly painlessly this time around (the most painful part was that In Memoriam section, but more on that later).

Because the Emmy producers chose to divide the broadcast into several main categories -- comedy, reality and variety, drama, miniseries and then the big comedy and drama series awards at the end -- the broadcast had a somewhat choppy feel. The opening number from host Jane Lynch, which had her walking through the sets of various shows, was lively and enjoyable (especially the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as the "President of Television" and Jane's visit to the set of 'Mad Men').

The comedy awards were first up, and they mostly went to 'Modern Family' and 'Big Bang Theory's' Jim Parsons (with his second win, he shut out Steve Carell, who many expected to get an Emmy for his final season on 'The Office). Though 'Modern Family' perhaps was a little over-rewarded, it was still nice to see academy voters recognize the wisdom of giving Emmys to both Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell, who perfectly complement each other's strengths as Claire and Phil Dunphy. (And a best supporting real-life spouse award should have gone to co-creator Steve Levitan's wife, who gave the camera a perfectly hilarious grimace when he told viewers that the idea for the episode in which the Dunphy kids find their parents "in the act" was taken from their lives.)

After the comedy segment, at about the one-hour mark, the broadcast switched over to reality and variety programs, which are won by the same shows year after year. It's no knock on the shows themselves to say that there's really no way to add spice to 'The Amazing Race' and 'The Daily Show' getting yet more awards hardware. That segment was a slog (and the appearances from the Emmytones, actors who sang introductions to each major portion of the broadcast, seemed stilted. That was probably one of those ideas that looked good on paper. In reality, the Emmytones seemed kind of cheesy).

Yet before and after that reality/variety dead zone, there were some good pre-taped sketches; the one shot on the set of 'The Office' was a winner, and the Lonely Island segment was just demented enough to keep things interesting. But what kept the broadcast truly lively was the fact we needn't have braced ourselves for head-scratching or truly irritating wins. This year, there just weren't many of those.

If this had been one of the stodgy, frustrating Emmy broadcasts of years gone by, in which Mariska Hargitay and the same few people won for the umpteenth time, Charlie Sheen's appearance at the awards ceremony would have been the big news of the night. As it was, Sheen was basically a footnote. It was hard not to see his speech to his former 'Two and a Half Men' co-workers ("From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season") as a cynical career resuscitation maneuver, and a very late one at that.

Sheen was, quite rightly, overshadowed by exuberant winners like Melissa McCarthy. Even before she won, her fellow comedy actress nominees took the stage with her and when McCarthy got her Emmy for her work on 'Mike and Molly,' they crowned her with a tiara and gave her a big bunch of roses.

"It's my first and best pageant ever!" she crowed.

There were great little moments too, such as Ed O'Neill jumping out of his seat to help Margo Martindale get up the stairs to collect her Emmy (she didn't need the assist, as it turned out, but what a nice gesture). Up on the stage, Martindale gloried in her win for her work as Mags in 'Justified.' "Sometimes things just take time," she said. (Sidebar: If you haven't seen season 2 of 'Justified' yet and have the Emmy broadcast on your DVR for later viewing, maybe skip Martindale's speech. There's a bit of a spoiler in there.)

The big drama wins -- which included a surprised Peter Dinklage winning for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in 'Game of Thrones' and Jason Katims of 'FNL' getting an upset writing win -- kept the evening's energy up, and even the expected 'Mildred Pierce' wins were outnumbered by Emmys for 'Downton Abbey,' one of my personal favorites. Though the Brit winners (including creator Julian Fellowes) were a bit low-key, I certainly can't argue with those wins.

'Mad Men' had to wait until the end of the broadcast to get recognized, but it took home the Big Kahuna -- best drama series. And if the best comedy win for 'Modern Family' was entirely expected, it wasn't the end of the world. Much of the rest of the Emmy broadcast had some actual suspense and excitement for once. And now we have all day Monday to critique everyone's outfits.

I call that a win-win.

Here are a few final thoughts observations on the Emmys:

* The In Memoriam segment, with tenors singing 'Hallelujah,' was poorly conceived. First of all, that's the most overplayed song in the history of television. Leonard Cohen wrote a great song, of course, but it has been used and abused by TV music supervisors for far too long. As James Poniewozik said on Twitter, "I believe that was the first time that an In Memoriam actually killed the song played during it." The late honorees in that segment deserved better.

*'The Good Wife's' main recognition of the night was Julianna Margulies' win as best dramatic actress. The win was well-deserved, but what was she wearing? A cast-off costume from 'Doctor Who'?

* Ricky Gervais' pre-taped bit was all right, I guess, but I'm a little tired of the way he constantly draws attention to himself as the awards-show rebel. As if award shows aren't the easiest targets this side of Charlie Sheen.

* Lynch seemed at ease as host, and that's half the battle. Her 'Jersey Shore' skit was amusing and she handled both the pre-taped segments and the live broadcast with aplomb. She's basically the female Neil Patrick Harris: Put her in an awards-show situation, and she'll be charming, funny and put everyone at their ease. Next year's Emmy wish list: Harris and Lynch host together.

* Did academy voters really love 'Mike and Molly' that much, or did they reward McCarthy for her amazing turn in 'Bridesmaids' this year? Does it matter? I don't mind seeing the hilarious McCarthy (who did great, underappreciated work on 'Gilmore Girls' for seven seasons) pick up as many statues as she can carry.

* I would have loved to see Jon Hamm win as best actor. He was a revelation in the fourth season of 'Mad Men,' but here's hoping he wins for a future season of the AMC show. It was the last chance for Kyle Chandler to win as Coach Taylor of 'Friday Night Lights,' and it was thrilling that he picked up an Emmy (one of two for the show) on Sunday. 'FNL' not winning best drama was fine with me. As I said on Twitter, "It's so fitting. Coach Taylor's team pulled out some amazing wins in the final minutes. Don't care that they lost to Don Draper at State."

* I know that I complained about Peter Dinklage's accent as Tyrion Lannister in 'Game of Thrones.' But Dinklage's performance settled into a good groove as season 1 of the show progressed, and I could not be happier that 'GoT' and Dinklage got some recognition on Sunday. I've no doubt that if future seasons are as good as the second half of 'GoT's' debut season, it'll pick up many more statues in future.

* One of my favorite moments was seeing Jesse from 'Breaking Bad' make a meth delivery to Creed on the set of 'The Office.' Talk about an inspired crossover.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.


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Adrenaline

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January 03 2012 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danielle Rush

I like "DOWNTON ABBEY" very much, but it did not deserve that Emmy for Best Miniseries. Not by a long shot.

November 01 2011 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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September 29 2011 at 2:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nellnee

I was thoroughly enjoying the show, but the incessant ringing noise, noted by many people on Twitter and Facebook, forced me to change the channel during the variety/reality section. Apparently not everyone noticed it, tho. From what I have heard, it was something to do with the iPhone and iPad apps, so the devise could know where you were in the telecast. Bad idea. I know plenty of people, not just me, changed the channel because that sound drove them bonkers.

September 20 2011 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
buster44

Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch? Talk about your gay agendas! I love the idea! ;)

Loved the recap, Mo, and like you I was pretty satisfied with the range of winners. I shrieked in delight for Margo. The "Miss Universe pageant" of comediannes was marvelous. And I still mist up every time I think about Kyle Chandler's win....I've adored him ever since his days on Early Edition.

The Emmytones were weird....it took me a while to realize who they were. Individual close-ups might have let me in on the joke sooner? (Not everyone has moved to high definition yet....)

I was shocked when the show came in on time, too!

September 19 2011 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jefflyall

i generally agree with your assessment of the Emmy Award Show, Mo. Just an observation: As pay television continues to grow in both quality and quantity of shows, I think it might be appropriate to create separate Emmy awards for pay television and broadcast television since network television is severely limited in its ability to offer content that is more adult and boundary pushing than broadcast television. Broadcast television is entirely reliant on advertisers for their revenue and therefore advertisers either directly or indirectly dictate program content, along with FCC decency regulations. It is no longer a mostly level playing field and hasn't been that way for some time. Broadcast television seems quaint and retro compared to pay television.

September 19 2011 at 2:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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September 19 2011 at 5:19 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Mikey M

The show stunk. Not funny or entertaining at all.
Even Lynch was horrible and she is usually funny.

September 19 2011 at 1:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mikey M's comment
TAUSIF

I completely agree but I think Lynch had two really good lines. One was where she called The Emmys The Modern Family awards and said that the show had been entered in drama and crossed her fingers. The other when she said some people ask why I became a lesbian and then introduced the cast of Entourage (it even had Walberg cracking up).

September 19 2011 at 8:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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