I am happy to say I have been informed I beat all “experts” in the Gold Derby contest to predict winners of this year’s Emmy Awards. So while on a high from that triumph, let me make some Emmy predictions about next year even though we are a full 12 months away from the big night in 2020.
Even though Emmys have a history of repeating their winners year after year, the slate will be wiped clean in the top three categories of Best Drama Series, Best Comedy Series and Best Limited Series. Since the night’s big winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge firmly closed the door on any future seasons of her four-time Emmy-winning comedy series Fleabag after just two six-episode seasons, I predict that something else will win this prize next year. And since the Television Academy has decided to send off the final season of HBO’s juggernaut Game of Thrones with 12 wins and its fourth Drama Series trophy, we can be assured it won’t be back either. And just in case you wondered, 10-time Emmy-winning limited series Chernobyl isn’t going to spring a second season a la Big Little Lies and try to carry on that nuclear disaster plotline for a shot at more Emmy glory, at least according to a producer backstage who assured the media this was it for the depressing series, which is sticking to being limited.
Emmys TV Review: Big Wins & Farewells To 'Game Of Thrones' & 'Veep,' But Host-Free Fox Ceremony Fails
So while next year is looking very different, we have to applaud this year’s Emmy bash, the culmination of a very long eight-month campaign, for cooking up some genuine surprises and unexpected winners just to mix things up in a very un-Emmy-like way. Yes there was the boring repetition of seeing Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Saturday Night Live and others winning yet again, perhaps a feeling of déjà vu that contributes to ratings declines. Still, though not a magnet for ratings, the real treat this year was seeing unexpected breakthroughs of winners like Fleabag in so many key categories, Jodie Comer as Lead Actress in a Drama Series in Killing Eve, Billy Porter as Lead Actor in a Drama Series in Pose, Julia Garner and director Jason Bateman taking prizes for Ozark, and When They See Us star Jharrel Jerome taking Lead Actor in a Limited Series/Movie with a speech that become a true highlight when he introduced the real-life “Exonerated Five” of the show sitting in the audience.
And what a weekend for the Brits. Former Emmy staple Downton Abbey dominated the box office with its big-screen debut, while British projects picked up half the gold last night at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. It is the kind of weekend that makes you think the Brits are coming back to reclaim America. It also is the kind of unexpected triumph that gives me hope that Academy voters (of which I am one, and yes I voted for Fleabag) are thoroughly judging actual content over sentimentality or shows they are just comfortable with. How else to explain the complete shutout of perennial winner Veep in a final season that might have been its best? Julia Louis-Dreyfus will have to wait for another day to break that tie with Cloris Leachman for most acting Emmy wins ever. At the HBO party I ran into Brad Hall, her husband, who put it succinctly when he used a colorful word not appropriate for a family website to describe the Veep shutout. However I pointed out one of the highlights turned out to be the hilarious tribute paid to the series’ seven seasons. So who needs another Emmy anyway?
I caught up with Television Academy President and COO Maury McIntyre as I was entering the Governors Ball after last night’s ceremony downtown and he was ebullient. “We really mixed it up with fresh winners,” he said, clearly happy with the outcome since the Academy often is accused of doing the opposite. Still, despite some genuine surprises and fresh British faces, there is a tendency to check off the box in some categories with the same winners such as Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, a weekly show that competes mostly against nightly talk shows, certainly a different skill set from the deserving likes of Kimmel, Corden, Colbert, Meyers, Noah etc. who lose to Oliver in predictable fashion year after year. Perhaps the category should be further tweaked to recognize the difference and put Oliver’s and Samantha Bee’s weekly shows in a different kind of category.
By the way, sitting in the cavernous Microsoft Theater it was almost deafening that for every mention of Oliver’s show — or Colbert’s, for that matter — the crowd sitting in the uppermost regions of the venue, which clearly was the entire staff of both shows shipped in from the East Coast, chanted and screamed with annoying consistency. It sounded like hundreds, and they didn’t quit.
Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos, in a corner of the Governors Ball before heading off to his company’s own party at MILK, seemed pleased about his streamer’s showing, earning its highest overall number yet with 27 (including two big wins for Ozark), second to HBO’s 37. In the case of Netflix, however, even with the impressive numbers it still is the streamer that has yet to win in any of the three most prestigious categories of Drama Series, Comedy Series and Limited Series. Rivals Hulu and Amazon Prime have prevailed, with the latter particularly impressive now winning Comedy Series two years in a row with two different series (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last year, and Fleabag, which together bagged 12 Emmys this year).
Of the British showing, Sarandos good-naturedly quipped, “It felt like we were at the BAFTAs tonight”, just as BAFTA-LA CEO Chantal Rickards coincidentally walked by, overheard his comment, and said “thank you.” Netflix is already plotting its next moves for next year, when the very, very British The Crown will be back in contention and aiming to give the streamer its first major-category win. Right now the biggest program category it has taken is the stand-alone Best Television Movie prize three years in a row, all for what are essentially episodes of an anthology series, Black Mirror, rather than genuine “movies.” But hey, it is all playing by the rules, but the TV movie category is another that could use some tweaking from the Academy. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why Netflix, with a plethora of movies to choose from like The Highwaymen, doesn’t make them Emmy-eligible and keeps going to the same well in this category with Black Mirror episodes. Oh wait, because they win.
It appears the Emmys, this year on Fox, have gotten their lowest ratings ever. It isn’t a surprise since, with the obvious exception of Game of Thrones, you have to wonder how many out there in the Middle America have even heard of many of the night’s big winners, much less watched them. The sole winner from the traditional Big 4 networks was Saturday Night Live for Variety Sketch Series and Directing. It also happens to be, with 45 seasons, the oldest currently running network entertainment show in the mix this year. It says something that all the Emmy night parties, outside of the Academy’s Governors Ball, are thrown by streamers or cable outlets, despite the fact that it is still the four commercial networks that rotate airing the Emmys each year and by extension giving all this free airtime to their competitors. It should be said though that ABC’s name is attached to the ABC/Disney Television Studios/Hulu/NatGeo party that drew a lot of winners to their bash (including Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear whose Live In Front Of A Studio Audience won at the Creative Arts last week), and NBC does traditionally throw a party before the Emmys on Saturday night. Big winner HBO’s bash was wall to wall at the Pacific Design Center as usual, and Amazon’s at Chateau Marmont had lines of revelers trying to get in to the packed and hot party space. Amazon had a very good night, so it was natural that its celebration would be a hot ticket.
All that aside, the Emmy show itself, handsomely produced by Don Mischer Productions and Done + Dusted, had a lot of great moments, largely thanks to a group of winners who could teach future award show honorees just how to give an acceptance speech. From Michelle Williams and Patricia Arquette to Jharell Jerome and Billy Porter, from Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bill Hader to Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub — the latter doing a brilliant takeoff on all those winners who read off an endless list of thank-yous — I can’t recall one awards show with this level of memorable unscripted moments which are, after all, what it is all about. Quite a few of the presenter comedy bits did not land, however, but Ben Stiller and Bob Newhart’s “wax museum of comedy” was priceless and worth sitting through the failed attempts of others (and that Variety show musical number — arrrrrgh). At least from my perspective inside the auditorium and listening to buzz from other attendees, the show was well received at the Microsoft, as you can always tell by the number of standing ovations, and last night there were many.
My guess is the Television Academy’s Board of Governors, which I previously sat on for six years, likely will have a come-to-Jesus moment, just as the Motion Picture Academy did a couple of years ago, over those disturbing ratings. But in a fractured, and increasingly divided TV landscape, it would take a miracle worker to produce a show that pleases all the disparate factions the Emmys has to deal with. Already, with the two Creative Arts shows added in, they do three of these things just to hand out all the hardware. It’s a fact of life now in TV land, and it is only going to get more complex for an awards show that originally was built to honor just three networks and run on one night. That there were so many memorable moments from last night’s show to talk about this morning after is probably all we can ask for. It is all those winners we can thank for that.
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