Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Surprisingly Watchable Emmys Telecast

I've fallen out of the habit of watching the Emmy Awards live, opting instead to watch the ceremony the following morning, since CBS has made it freely available on their website.  And I was happy to discover that this year had one of the most watchable award ceremonies I've seen in a long time.  This wasn't because everything went perfectly - far from it - but because it managed to have the right blend of entertainment, unpredictability, and momentum.

As an awards enthusiast (ahem), this was an exciting year because so many of the nominees were newcomers and it was difficult to predict the races.  With "Game of Thrones" benched for the season, it left an opportunity for "The Handmaid's Tale," "Stranger Things," and other shows to take their shot at the big categories.  Also, after several years of anemic Miniseries/Limited Series and Made for TV Movies races full of nominees that nobody watched, suddenly all the categories were packed with well-known stars like Nicole Kidman, and many of the programs themselves were popular successes.  The big winner of the Made for TV Movie was the "San Junipero" installment of "Black Mirror," the Netflix anthology series that probably attracted more viewers than Best Comedy winner "Veep."  

Streaming shows had a fantastic year in general.  Yes, Hulu was the big winner, running off with the Best Drama award and several others for "The Handmaid's Tale," but that doesn't negate Netflix's three nominations in the category, which means that over half the nominees were from streaming services this year.  HBO, of course, was still a big player, taking home multiple trophies for "Veep," "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," and the star-studded "Big Little Lies," which tied with "The Handmaid's Tale" in taking home five major awards.  Basic cable and network shows still made a decent showing, but they were clearly outgunned on most fronts.  Donald Glover's two wins for "Atlanta" and Sterling K. Brown's Best Actor victory for "This is Us" were the highlights.

And speaking of Sterling K. Brown, his acceptance speech getting cut off was one of several awkward moments during the telecast that didn't reflect very well on the Emmy show's producers, but did a fantastic job of keeping the whole thing watchable.  If you weren't interested in the Emmy races, Stephen Colbert's hosting turn was lots of fun, and there were some great acceptance speeches this year.  Ann Dowd has surely guaranteed herself years of work after that genuinely lovely reaction.  However, the really entertaining bits were keeping track of all the jabs at Donald Trump, announcer Jermaine Fowler's off-the-wall exclamations, and keeping track of spontaneous running jokes like #dcpublicschools.  Perhaps the most tense moment of the night was when 90-year-old Cisely Tyson had a senior moment onstage, and had to be gently fed her lines by her younger co-presenter.   

I generally enjoy Colbert, and was sure he'd be a great host - go look up his presenter bit with Jon Stewart the year he lost to Barry Manilow.  I was happy to find that he mostly avoided the politics on Emmy night, instead delivering a rousing opening number, chatting with RuPaul dressed like a giant Emmy statuette, commiserating with Jimmy Kimmel over John Oliver's win, and poking fun at himself in a "Westworld" bit.  The other scripted shtick like Sean Spicer's cameo and Rachel Bloom's song-and-dance intro for the Ernst and Young accountants were mercifully brief.  Aside from a more pointed highlighting of diversity issues, this felt like a remarkably unfussy Emmys that was happy to just put talented people onstage and let them give each other awards in a timely fashion.     

As a media nerd, I'd like to point out that I'm very happy to see the Variety Show categories made it into the telecast this year. They often don't.  And that the "In Memoriam" segment was tasteful and unusually gutting, because I forgot about several of the most prominent deaths like Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Thicke, and Roger Moore.  And don't worry about Harry Dean Stanton - he'll be in next year's version, I'm sure.  What will really be interesting is how the Emmy voters will react to "Twin Peaks," which I suspect that Showtime may put into the Limited Series category.

But that's a long ways off.  Until next year, happy watching.       

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