Primetime Emmys 2013: Surprisers And First-Timers Lift Telecast – But Did It Have To Be So Sad?

It was obviously another huge night for AMC, which took home the most prestigious Emmy prize of Outstanding Drama Series for the 5th time in the last six years, this time for long overdue Breaking Bad. Inside the Governors Ball following the Emmys, a raucous celebration at the 400 tables, 3-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston didn’t seem to care that he personally lost in a shocker to The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels. “This is the one I really wanted,”  he told me about the show’s win. I asked AMC topper Charlie Collier why he programmed a new episode of Breaking Bad against the Emmy broadcast instead of running a repeat. “There may be a few thousand people here who pay attention to  the Emmys  tonight. But there are millions who want to know what’s going to happen on Breaking Bad!,he told me. As for the win, “this was a show no one could believe got on the air, didn’t get cancelled, and kept thriving,” he added.

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Even AMC stable mate and 4-time drama series winner Mad Men’s Matt Weiner came by and hugged Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, perhaps the nicest guy who has never won an Emmy until now. I asked Gilligan if he really thought any of the other shows he mentioned by name in his acceptance speech were going to win over his. “Oh yes, absolutely. I was convinced House Of Cards would win,” he told me. A day earlier, Saturday’s ICM Partners brunch at Chris Silberman’s home featured long-time client Gilligan as clearly  the belle of the ball with several executives eager to talk to him. He’s a hot commodity right now.

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Later at the HBO party I caught up with Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, one of those nominees Gilligan thought would prevail and who still managed to enjoy the hoopla (particularly host Neil Patrick Harris’ number The Song In The Middle Of The Show). “At least I have a wife to go home to who tells me I’m not a loser,” Fellowes said. Speaking of Downton Abbey, the Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama winner Anna Gunn told me she was convinced they would open the envelope and announce Maggie Smith as the winner in her category. To use a very British term she was still gobsmacked at the Governors Ball as the reality of her victory sank in.

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Also at the HBO party, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) seemed shocked but gleeful repeating Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Series for her 4th Emmy. She did prepare an acceptance speech but only while showering on Sunday. She called husband Brad Hall up to the bathroom, stood there with no clothes on, and told him she would call co-star and eventual surprise Supporting Actor In A Comedy winner Tony Hale to come on stage with her should she win. His holding her purse was a hilarious bit and a smart example of how to do an acceptance speech that doesn’t bore.

HBO’s Michael Lombardo was understandably happy about not only the Veep and Newsroom star Jeff Daniels’ acting wins but also the pay channel’s 11 Emmys for the Liberace movie Behind The Candelabra. Because it was rejected by just about every major studio before producer Jerry Weintraub found a home for it at HBO. “Fortunately for us the studios just don’t want to be in this kind of business anymore,” Lombardo said, then noted how sad he was that Candelabra writer Richard LaGravenese was odd man out, losing in one of the night’s many upsets to Abi Morgan for her The Hour script. (I couldn’t agree more. A film wins Emmys in nearly every conceivable category and somehow gets ignored for its screenplay? Shameful.) Other than that omission Weintraub was beaming as we exited the HBO party together. “I turn 76 years old on Thursday.  How many guys that age can say they have this?” he asked as he pointed to his shiny new Emmy. He’s the one who put it all together, enlisting his Ocean’s 11 director Steven Soderbergh and a cast that included new Emmy winner Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It’s understandable he was in a celebratory mood. Douglas was moving fast through the HBO party, with many stopping him to say how much they loved his top  or bottom speech – the night’s best – dedicating half of his Emmy to co-star Damon to big laughs.

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As for the show itself, I caught up at the Governors Ball with Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman/CEO Bruce Rosenblum who told me he was happy with it overall. He did agree with me that all the heartfelt In Memoriam segments tended to depress the proceedings a bit. Actress Lisa Rinna said, “It was an experiment that won’t be repeated,” while another didn’t want to see these tributes to deceased TV personalities every 15 minutes. As Modern Family’s Outstanding Comedy Series winner Steve Levitan noted onstage with no lack of irony, “This may be the saddest Emmys of all time but we couldn’t be happier.”

Neil Patrick Harris delivered overall and the show was not a snore. It even scored some bullseyes. But some of the winners were completely unpredictable headscratchers – or worse.  Somehow Laura Linney pulled off a surprise win for Best Actress In A Movie Or Miniseries for The Big C: Hereafter, a former Showtime comedy series that switched to the less competitive Mini Or Movie category with its elongated four final episodes. Ironically the classic Emmy clip that ran for the Nokia audience during the commercial break right after her win (she was absent) showed Linney losing Best Actress In A Comedy Series to Melissa McCarthy just a few years earlier. Maybe it’s time to tweak the Movie/Mini categories again, since another cancelled series-turned-mini for the sake of the Emmys, Political Animals, picked up a Supporting award for Ellen Burstyn.

There were many nice moments, none nicer than when the late Henry Bromell, who died in March, won the Outstanding Drama Series Writing Emmy for Homeland and it was accepted by his widow. At the Writing Nominees party beautifully hosted by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville and sponsored by the Academy on Thursday night, Bromell’s certificate was accepted on his behalf by co-star Navid Neghabani who noted that day was Bromell’s birthday.

Also good about this year’s Emmys was the streak-breaking victory for Outstanding Variety Series of The Colbert Report over 10-time winner The Daily Show With Jon Stewart which must have been shell-shocked at its first loss ever in the category. Even better, a surprise win for The Voice in Reality Competition Series came over 9-time champion The Amazing Race.  Add to that all those surprising acting wins and it is no wonder host Harris exclaimed, “This just in. No one at home is winning their office pool!” It may not have been an Emmys for the ages (they never are), but it was definitely one worth watching for the sheer unpredictability of it all.

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