With trophy shows so dull these days — owing in large measure to the current trend toward laundry-list acceptance speeches delivered by Hollywood luminaries more frightened of forgetting to thank their agent, manager, publicist and spouse than of boring to death tens of millions of viewers — the broadcasting networks struggle to find ways to make sure the gowns are not the most interesting part of the broadcast. This morning, CBS and the TV Academy announced that, in addition to what has become the traditional In Memoriam segment, this weekend’s Primetime Emmy Awards broadcast will also include special tributes to recently deceased industry figures. For better or worse, death does well at trophy shows because viewers will pick watching beautifully decked-out celebrities having an actual genuine moment over beautifully decked-out celebrities thanking agents and lawyers any day. LL Cool J’s heartfelt prayer for the Whitney Houston — who had died the day before — followed by Jennifer Hudson’s moving performance of Houston signature song “I Will Always Love You” sent the 2012 Grammycast skyrocketing in the ratings, also on CBS.
Sadly, death has been a big story in the TV industry since the last Emmy ceremony, including the unexpected deaths of James Gandolfini and Cory Monteith. In Sunday’s special tributes, Edie Falco will remember her Sopranos co-star and Jane Lynch will remember her Glee colleague. Michael J. Fox, starring in a new NBC comedy, will pay tribute to Family Ties producer Gary David Goldberg. Robin Williams, starring in a new CBS comedy, will remember friend/mentor Jonathan Winters, and Rob Reiner will fete his longtime All In The Family castmate Jean Stapleton.
CBS did not say today how it planned to make room for the additional tributes. It’s not expected the Emmy producers will make room by enforcing the controversial 45-second restriction placed on Emmy winners during last night’s Creative Arts awards handout. “You have 45 seconds to get from your seat all the way down the aisle, up the steps, and do your acceptance speech,” Creative Arts Emmys producer Spike Jones Jr had warned sternly, just before the beginning of the ceremony, adding, “I’m not kidding.” That said he did make exception for Bob Newhart when he finally won an Emmy after seven nominations over several decades, figuring, correctly, it would be a speech worth hearing. That said, CBS has had great success over the years transforming the Grammy Awards into a trophy show in which a mere 10-ish awards are handed out — less than half the number to be handed out at this weekend’s Primetime Emmys. This has made room during the Grammy broadcast for loads of viewer-pleasing music performances, in memoriam specials, etc., and drastically cut the number of boring acceptance speeches, which do so much to convince viewers the show belongs on their Life Is Too Short List.
The last time CBS tried to inject additional material into the Emmy broadcast it exploded in the network’s eye. In 2009, the network and that year’s producer Don Mischer got the TV Academy’s blessing to tape in advance eight of that year’s 28 derbies, edited out the boring bits and air them during the live ceremony. An estimated 15 minutes could be saved, which would be used “to make the Emmys more relevant to mainstream viewers,” as Mischer explained it to TV critics which, in round numbers, meant he planned to add live performances that might attract viewers to the ratings-hungry trophy show (only 12.2 million people had bothered to watch the Emmycast the previous year, which was an all-time low). The time-shifting plan died when guilds suggested the concept breached their deals with the academy granting it the use of show clips for free in exchange for the promise that when their members pick up their trophies, it will be telecast live as part of each Primetime Emmy Awards telecast.
That year, like this, CBS sitcom star Neil Patrick Harris was host.