Death became the Primetime Emmy Awards last night, which enjoyed the franchise’s biggest crowd in eight years with a major show of mourning. With the Emmy Awards now almost completely morphed into the old CableAce Awards, the broadcast networks that take turns airing it are constantly on the prowl for ways to include more broadcast-TV moments in the ceremony — you may have noticed presenter Allison Janney plugging her new CBS sitcom’s debut. This year’s Emmycast cleverly focused on one industry category that broadcast TV still completely dominates: death. A good chunk of last night’s Emmycast was devoted to it. In addition to the traditional In Memoriam segment, five Very Important Dead People were singled out for individual tributes. And four of them were best, or entirely, known for their work on broadcast — Gary David Goldberg, Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton and the controversial Cory Monteith. CBS execs didn’t mind the kerfuffle about Monteith’s tribute — they know that more people are tuning in to trophy shows these days for the social aspect of it all — aka The Snarking. Oh, and make that five out of six special tributes going to broadcast TV figures, counting Elton John’s musical tribute to Liberace. Congratulations broadcasters!
Another of the Emmy dirges, rolled out a few VIP memorial tributes after the show’s lackluster opening, looked at role broadcast TV played in covering a slew of historic events that happened 50 years ago, in 1963. Viewers were treated to footage surrounding the assassination of JFK and its aftermath, including the on-air killing of his accused assassin, followed by footage of the Beatles who performed on the Ed Sullivan Show less than three months later and gave America permission to move on with its life, said CBS’ Showtime star Don Cheadle. That may have worked in ’63, but not in ’13, because we all know Beatle John Lennon was subsequently murdered outside his home in 1980. Also included in the segment: footage of the historic March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his memorable “I Have A Dream” speech — five years before he was assassinated, in Memphis.
“This may be the saddest Emmys ever but we’re happy,” Modern Family exec producer Steve Levitan apologized when he picked up up the penultimate award of the night, for best comedy series.
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To make room for all this sadness, this year’s Emmy producers aggressively policed acceptance speeches. Never in the history of the Emmy show have so many winners been so musically given the hook — a shame, since this appeared to be the year someone got it through the thick skulls Hollywood luminaries that they have a responsibility not to bore viewers to death with thank-you laundry lists. They gave some of the most touching, amusing acceptance speeches in recent memory — or two-thirds of those speeches anyway, before the music took over. One of the best was delivered by Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with her made-for-TV VPOTUS assistant Tony Hale standing obsequiously behind her, holding her evening bag and reminding her to thank her family. Louis-Dreyfus has said in interviews she came up with the idea at the eleventh hour and then “all” she had to do was win the best comedy actress Emmy. Also getting a rise out of the Nokia Theater audience was HBO’s Behind The Candelabra star Michael Douglas’ “two-handed-job” acceptance speech, acknowledging his debt to co-star Matt Damon and asking him whether he wanted the top or the bottom of the statuette. Conspiracy theorists last night insisted CBS’ best comedy actor-winning star Jim Parsons got more time to speechify, before the music began to cut him off, than was extended to other winners. CBS didn’t mind the accusation ––see CBS Knows The Importance Of Social Snarking, above.
CBS pulled off one of the greatest lead-in-to-Emmy viewer conversions last night in recent Emmy history, putting a lid on most How To Fix The Emmys talk. Just over 19 million people were watching national football play on the network between 7:30-8 PM last night, after which the network immediately went to the Emmy broadcast, which started about 3 minutes late and averaged nearly 18 million — its biggest audience since 2005 and about 4.4 million viewers better than last year. It’s been years since the Emmycast got kissed by a football game — the past couple years Emmys lead-ins have been the paltry 5 million-6 million viewers snagged by red-carpet arrivals shows. Last year’s Emmycast clocked 13 million viewers and the 2011 Emmy ceremony logged an average of just 12.4 mil. Hopefully we can all agree that the best way to fix the Emmy Awards is not to single out token deceased industry VIPs who represent various demographic groups and/or who mentored stars with new series about to debut on broadcast networks, but to dump red-carpet arrival shows in favor of lead-in shows that deliver some ratings heft. Preferably football.
CBS has many other reasons to be pleased with last night’s Emmy performance. Breaking Bad winning The Big One — best drama series, for instance. Had Netflix’s House Of Cards taken the trophy it would have posed a problem because, being a brand new series, it might have caused Emmy viewers to check it out. AMC’s Breaking Bad, however, being on its way out, poses no real threat to broadcasters’ lineups. Broadcasters reacted similarly in 2004 when HBO’s The Sopranos, which had debuted way back in 1999, won its very first Emmy for best drama series. Industry navel-lint gazers think Breaking Bad won its first best-drama Emmy this late in its life because it enjoyed an enormous advantage this year: telecasting some of its zippiest final-lap episodes in the thick of Emmy voting season.
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