There I was at the Governors Ball following the Emmy Awards talking to TV Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum and show producer Don Mischer when Tracy Morgan walks into the room and heads straight for us. Mischer introduces me to the big surprise star appearance of the show (he stunned everyone when he walked onstage to present the night’s final award for Best Drama Series). Morgan grabbed my hand tightly and told me how much he owed not only to Mischer, who had produced a Billboards Music Awards show he hosted, but also to his true mentor Lorne Michaels who was also in the house. “He and Don gave me my comedy back,” Morgan told me.
He got emotional right there smack in the middle of the very crowded Governors Ball and started crying as he pointed to his wife and family a few feet in front of us. He described in detail the accident that has kept him sidelined all this time. “As the bus rolled over I heard him (God) say. ‘You and you and you and you stay. But you (referring to is deceased good friend, comedian James McNair) come with me.” It was a very powerful moment you could tell moved both Mischer and Rosenblum, who offered to take him over to Michaels’ table. An Emmy moment for the ages.
Mischer, who produced a sharp, funny and pertinent Emmy show, told me Morgan did not want to walk the red carpet or appear in the theater seats. So about 30 minutes before his category he was whisked in the back entrance and kept hidden until the big moment. Academy officials tell me only about five people knew of the plan. It created a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation, the second major one of the night following the announcement of Jon Hamm as winner of the long-elusive Lead Actor In A Drama Series Emmy.
Speaking of that, now there was also a classic Emmy moment. Hamm had gone 0-for-7 for his iconic role as ad executive Don Draper on Mad Men, but had been heavily tipped to finally win in this category. He did, and the instantaneous standing ovation seemed to overwhelm Hamm who delivered a heartfelt speech that harkened to his early struggles as an actor when he had to impose on relatives and friends to put him up.
“I want to thank the people to whom I own an incredible debt. People who in my life have gotten me here. Families who have chosen for some reason to be nice along this strange road. So Brad and Susie, Marianne and Ted…Dick and Wendy, and Gary and Sue and my sisters, and Cora and Jen thank you all very much. I would not be standing here without you,” he said as he walked off, forgetting to mention series creator Matt Weiner, who had so doggedly wanted this prize for Hamm all through the many years of the show.
That omission will probably haunt Hamm (one of the names he thanked was his dog, someone told me), but his acceptance was so deeply personal it went way beyond the time he has spent playing Draper. When I caught up with him at the ball, Hamm was clearly ecstatic about the win after all this time (16 overall nominations). Who can say this wasn’t the highlight of the evening? The standing ovation was so genuine. “It’s thrilling. I am truly shell-shocked,” he said. That was clear. Weiner would have been OK with the mistake if Mad Men, as expected by many pundits, had won in its final go-round. The lack of any mention of his name in the one win the show got in its final season has to sting, but these things happen. Hamm waited a loooooong time for this moment. But I could also tell in talking to Weiner that he was deeply disappointed to have lost in his last try to Game Of Thrones, a series that goes against the grain of what usually wins in this category (the last — and only other — time for this type of show was Lost).
Meanwhile, in a huge night for HBO, one frequent winner, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, told me at the HBO party later Sunday night that she was genuinely surprised at her fourth win in a row for Veep. “I just didn’t think I was going to win again, ” she said in a crush of well-wishers. Well she did, but she was especially happy that the show itself, and particularly the writers, also finally got recognition. So how long does she plan to do it? “As long as the stories keep coming,” she answered. “But you never know how long that is going to be.” It’s a great character, and perfect for the times — let’s hope she keeps going.
Speaking of HBO, what a night that pay cable network had (except for host Andy Samberg giving out information that could lead to millions getting the service free). I am happy to say I predicted it at least two weeks ago: Best Drama Series for the surging, and now record-breaking Game Of Thrones; Best Comedy Series for Veep; Best Limited Series for the sweeping (six Emmys) Olive Kitteridge; Best Television Movie for Bessie. Quite the unprecedented sweep and one that left the broadcast networks gasping for air.
And if it wasn’t HBO cranking out wins, Comedy Central took complete control of the variety categories, particularly a fond farewell for Jon Stewart’s version of The Daily Show, which grabbed three trophies. I confess I voted for it despite Stewart’s numerous past wins; I am already nostalgic for the show and he’s only been gone a few weeks. When I ran into Comedy Central topper Doug Herzog over the weekend he told me he thought John Oliver might win ( yet another for HBO???) but loved it when I predicted a final Stewart victory. He is keeping his fingers crossed for the debut of Trevor Noah in just a week’s time.
It really is a shame that the wins were spread among so few series thanks to HBO domination. There were scattered victories for the four commerical nets such as Viola Davis’ in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder or NBC’s The Voice thankfully preventing CBS’ perennial winner The Amazing Race from winning again. I ran into directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller at the Governors Ball. They had lost for first-season series The Last Man On Earth, this on top on their outrageous snub by Oscar for The Lego Movie earlier this year. But they still had optimism. “We are in a Fantasy Football game with Michael J. Fox and right now it’s tied. We could be winners still before the night is up,” Lord told me.
It has to be embarrassing for the Academy to see the four broadcast nets that regularly rotate airing the Emmys so increasingly shut out of the actual awards action.
As for Mischer’s show itself, this was a lively and fun Emmys that got off to a roaring start with Samberg’s filmed sequence about trying to see every conceivable show , and right through to the end. Sure, there were bits that fell flat, but Samberg was such a likable presence all the way along you could forgive him and his writers. This show has the spirit needed for an Emmy marathon that hands out 26 awards. By and large the speeches were good too, and that always helps. Rosenblum told me he was pleased with the way the vote went, particularly in light of the Academy making room for so many more voters. That lent itself to seeing fresh blood in series wins for shows like Veep and Game Of Thrones which could cash in finally for the big victories. One HBO executive, obviously ecstatic at their packed-to-the-rafters Pacific Design Center party, said they thought with the old, and now defunct, blue ribbon panel method of selecting winners that it would probably have been Mad Men and Modern Family celebrating again. Hard to say , but the changes are a good thing. “I still think we are a good two years away from really seeing the long-term impact of the changes we put into place this year,” said Rosenblum.
One thing that happened: Both Modern Family and Mad Men were denied a historical and record-breaking night. Modern Family, with five previous wins in a row in Comedy Series, could have broken Frasier’s record with a sixth, while Mad Men with four previous Drama wins could have held the record itself in that category with a fifth. Not to be. And maybe that’s a really good thing after all. Change is good, and the Television Academy and its members are really seeming to realize that.