September 22, 2008

Barney: Emmy Show a Big Snoozer

By Chuck Barney

Remember when television was regarded as a mass medium?

It sure didn't appear to be one during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, where much of the love was showered upon basic-cable and network shows that have earned more critical praise than viewers.

Chief among them was "Mad Men." The dazzling period piece about advertising in the early 1960s captured the trophy for outstanding drama, becoming the first basic-cable show to earn that distinction. "Mad Men," which had an average audience of only 900,000 or so in its freshman season, also captured a writing award for creator Matthew Weiner.

"I want to thank the people at our little television channel," Weiner said, referring to AMC, a network once mainly known for airing moldy movies.

Basic cable also made a dent in the acting categories, signaling a major landscape change in the medium. Glenn Close, as expected, was the best-actress winner for her unnerving work as a ruthless lawyer in FX's "Damages," a show that was almost canceled due to low ratings. In addition, her castmate, Zeljko Ivanek, was a surprise winner as best supporting actor in a drama.

Also on the basic-cable front, Bryan Cranston was named best actor in a drama for his superb work in "Breaking Bad," a little- seen AMC show about a chemistry teacher who turns to dealing meth to support his family.

"I haven't been able to get this close to her until now," Cranston said, staring at his Emmy. "The restraining order has been lifted."

The networks weren't completely shut out as Tina Fey's "30 Rock" was named best comedy series for the second straight year. But as much buzz as "30 Rock" gets, its ratings have been mediocre at best.

"We're so very grateful to have jobs in this turkey-burger economy," said Fey, who also picked up trophies for writing and acting. In addition, her co-star, Alec Baldwin, won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series.

Ironically, the Emmy show itself was hardly worthy of an Emmy. It was a dreadfully dull, politically tinged telecast in which way too many segments landed with a thud, particularly the team of reality- show hosts called upon to guide us through the night.

Yes, the decision to hand over the emcee duties to Tom Bergeron ("Dancing With the Stars"), Heidi Klum ("Project Runway"), Howie Mandel ("Deal or No Deal"), Jeff Probst ("Survivor") and Ryan Seacrest ("American Idol") was a clear case of more being less as they brought very little humor and/or spark to the proceedings.

And even they seemed to know it -- starting with a talky, unfunny opening monologue.

"It's two minutes into the show and we have nothing for you," said Probst, stating the obvious.

Oh, why couldn't we vote them off the island?

Speaking of voting, politics, as one might expect, left a big stamp on the show. Martin Sheen, who played the president on "The West Wing," urged citizens to get to the polls and "vote for the candidate of your choice -- at least once." Meanwhile, the award for best television movie went to HBO's "Recount," about the controversial 2000 presidential election. And the Emmy for best miniseries went to the epic "John Adams," about one of the nation's founding fathers. Produced by Tom Hanks, the miniseries yielded trophies for its lead actors, Paul Giammati and Laura Linney.

Kirk Ellis, who picked up an Emmy for his writing work on "John Adams," noted that it was an opportunity to talk about "a period in our history when articulate men articulated complex thoughts in complete sentences."

The show also delved a great deal into television history with tributes to "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," as well as a flood of classic clips. Josh Groban even appeared to do a medley of old TV theme songs, including "Happy Days" and "The Jeffersons." It was not a highwater mark in his career.

The night was short on drama and surprises as Ivanek accounted for the biggest stunner of them all. He did riveting work as a creepy lawyer, but was pretty much an afterthought going into the show as castmate Ted Danson, along with Michael Emerson of "Lost" and John Slattery of "Mad Men," were considered the favorites.

As for those reality hosts, Probst beat out his peers for his work on "Survivor," but not after Jimmy Kimmel put all the nominees through some of the same nerve-wracking tension that they have made contestants endure over the years. All five were made to stand up on stage and wait for the announcement that came after a commercial break, of course.

Dianne Weist (HBO's "In Treatment") captured the Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama, but wasn't present to accept the honor. She undoubtedly had an idea of how boring the show would be.

Chuck Barney can be reached at [email protected] Also check out his "TV Freak" blog at

Originally published by Chuck Barney, Staff writer.

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