In my opinion it was a stirring year for the Emmys in terms of diversity, the number of strong female-oriented shows winning in big numbers, the emergence of streaming into Emmy’s top categories, the renewed success of a 42-year-old series, and the presence of politics and Donald Trump in a way that makes this 69th Primetime Emmy Awards show one for the books. Oh, and then there was Stephen Colbert, who pulled it all off with a smart monologue and continuing presence in the show that made it all go down smoothly.
Still, it was former Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer who stole it, as well as the limelight at the Governors Ball afterwards, where he was constantly being asked by Emmy-goers to have their picture taken with him. When I spoke to him and told him I was from Deadline he immediately lit up and asked for my card. It seems he loved our story on the ratings that his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! got. The Headline of the September 14th story read: “Sean Spicer A Ratings Magnet For Jimmy Kimmel.”
The good-natured Spicer told me the idea for the Emmy show booking came from one of the executive producers about a week ago, and after they explained how it would work he signed on. He said people had been telling him about the various audience-reaction shots director Glenn Weiss’ cameras caught, and he was anxious to watch the replay for himself. Wait til he sees the look on Melissa McCarthy’s face when he strode out on that podium. I asked him if he was worried what his former boss might think of the appearance, but he deferred on answering.
Spicer will forever be a highlight of a show that will be known for its Trump bashing — not just the expected jabs by host Colbert, but also from presenters and winners, the best coming from Alec Baldwin referring to the fact Trump never won an Emmy but thought he should have. “Mr. President, you finally won your Emmy,” he said as he held up the statuette he took for playing Trump on Saturday Night Live.
The nine Emmys for SNL by the way was another industry pat-on-the-back to Lorne Michaels and his 42-year-old series, which hadn’t won a Variety Series program Emmy since 1993, and before that in 1976 for the first season. I caught up with Michaels at the HBO party and he was duly proud of the way the show handled a very difficult year, saying it represented the biggest challenge SNL had ever had.
“Sometimes late on Friday night news would come from Trump Tower and we’d have to change everything,” he said about the shifting nature of the material the show had to work with. He said he has no intention of leaving the series now that it has had such a successful renaissance. “It is what I do,” he said (in addition to a few other little shows on NBC). It is pretty amazing when you look at the range of this year’s big winners — from a 42-year-old network series taking nine Emmys to a first-season streaming series on Hulu grabbing eight awards overall including the coveted Best Drama Series.
The Handmaid’s Tale had everyone at the Hulu and MGM (which produces it) tables at the Governors Ball in a state of euphoria. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins, Head Of Content Craig Erwich and MGM’s Gary Barber all told me how thrilled they were to have a project like this that all came together the way it did. Hopkins said he didn’t expect this number of Emmys but gave credit to a great production team and a real spirit of camaraderie that brought it all together. Barber said they had taken the show to other places, but with Hulu found just the right partner. It is not lost on any of them that it is a bit ironic Hulu should become the first streamer to crack a major series category at the Emmys, especially since it spent a fraction of what Netflix and Amazon did on their Emmy campaigns.
Netflix has had a contender in the Drama Series race in each of the past five years, and in fact had three this year with The Crown, Stranger Things and stalwart House of Cards — although last night it came up with a single win between them, for John Lithgow’s supporting turn in The Crown. Still, this year Netflix won 20 Emmys overall, second only to perennial leader HBO’s 29. I caught up with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos at the Governors Ball and he was gracious about Hulu’s success knowing when you open the door others may walk in. “I was really pleased we were able to crack the TV movie race for the first time, ” Sarandos told me about one of the Netflix victories (from a huge 92 nominations).
Actually that “movie” was the San Junipero episode of the anthology series Black Mirror, which also surprisingly took the writing Emmy for Limited Series or a Movie over juggernauts like Big Little Lies and Feud. I heard some grumbling at the HBO party about this since they felt, probably correctly, that the hourlong show wasn’t a movie at all and more properly should have been placed elsewhere. The rules in the past few years in this category have stretched the definition of what a “movie” is and probably should be revisited by the board. One HBO exec was peeved that their Wizard Of Lies film with Robert De Niro lost to essentially an episode in a TV series.
On the other hand, the HBO contingent was over the moon about the eight big wins for their Limited Series Big Little Lies, which simply cleaned up. FX’s Feud was shut out.
Best Lead Actress In A Limited Series or Movie Nicole Kidman was being congratulated in a true crush of well wishers, but she took time out to speak to me about this enormous experience not only starring in but also producing (with co-star Reese Witherspoon) this popular and important seven-part adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s besselling book that has truly struck a chord in many ways — including, in the case of Kidman’s character, on issues of domestic abuse. Her speech was the best of the night and very heartfelt, especially when she talked about the show and its effect on women in that situation.
Unlike what sadly happened with This Is Us Lead Actor In A Drama Series winner Sterling K. Brown, there was no attempt to play her off with the orchestra. “I was really surprised,” Kidman, a veteran of many awards shows, told me. “I didn’t ever get a wrap-up signal and the orchestra never started playing so I just kept going.” I am glad she did. Sometimes a speech like that on a show like this can make a difference. Moriarty was taking photos with one of the show’s eight Emmys when I caught up with her. “This definitely gives me inspiration to start writing a second season,” she told me as she pointed to the statuette.
Clearly none of this gets old for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who couldn’t believe it when I told her at the HBO party that she had just set an Emmy record for winning six consecutive times for the same character in a series for Veep. She had been tied with Murphy Brown’s Candice Bergen. “No, no that’s wrong. Cloris Leachman has the record,” she tried to correct me. Leachman, who has eight acting Emmys like Louis-Dreyfus now has overall, never did the six-pack for a single series. And she has one more shot to make it seven, but as I reported earlier, it appears the final season of Veep will be delayed until the 2019 Emmy eligibility period.
Louis-Dreyfus also has the distinction of having won Emmys for acting in three different sitcoms, another unique record. She was so good in the 2013 film Enough Said that I asked if she has more movies in her sights now that the series will be winding down. “I have a couple of ideas that are possible, but you know this TV thing is really time consuming — you have no idea,” she laughed. Production on the seventh and final season of Veep begins in October. I told her I was talking to Lead Actor In A Comedy Series winner Donald Glover at the Governors Ball and he mentioned he was hugging her backstage after their respective victories, only to later think that his series lost to Veep and they are both producers on their shows. “Why am I hugging the enemy?” he laughed. Glover actually told me he was so energized by his rare dual victory as actor and director on Atlanta he wants to make Season 2 twice as good so he can come back and beat Veep.
New Television Academy chairman Hayma Washington told me he was very pleased with the show overall, and he should be. The Academy also actually figured out how to move people in and out in a much smoother way than before, which was really welcome. And any Emmys that brings out presenting teams like Fonda, Tomlin and Parton, or Norman Lear and Carol Burnett (who all got standing ovations), can’t be all bad, and this one was actually pretty good for an awards show that has to hand out 26 categories in three hours and still come in on time like it did.
I loved Colbert’s opening musical number that suggested everything was “better on TV.” It had the punch of a Tony Awards opener which made sense because this was the first Emmys produced by Tony honchos Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner. I particularly liked that instead of showing old clips during commercial breaks at the Microsoft Theatre, they managed to feature highlights of categories previously handed out at the two Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies last weekend, another great example of inclusiveness on this year’s show. “Sometimes the Creative Arts is looked at like the junior prom,” Washington told me. “We want to make it as equal a part of the show as every other award.” Good job.
Now let’s see how long it takes to get a tweeted review from Donald Trump.