September 23, 2008

Cable Soars As Emmy Bores

By Alan Pergament

Well, the Emmy Awards made history Sunday night in more ways than one.

As expected, it honored deserving cable shows and actors at a historic level.

The victories of AMC's "Mad Men" as best drama and Glenn Close as best dramatic actress for FX's "Damages" weren't unexpected. Bryan Cranston's win as best dramatic actor for AMC's "Breaking Bad" was a shocker, even though I predicted it.

The only big network winner was NBC's "30 Rock," which won as best comedy for the second straight year even though its audience is cable-sized. The show's stars, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, were the other big network winners as best comedic actress and actor, respectively.

On the negative side, the opening of ABC's telecast easily was the dullest and worst start of the show -- or any awards show -- in 60 years. And it didn't get much better over three hours.

It started with Oprah Winfrey's dull lecture about the impact of television and continued with a laughless eight minutes involving the five reality show hosts -- Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest -- who admittedly had nothing to say.

The bit was almost as painful as watching the Fox reality show "The Moment of Truth."

The show's first winner, Jerry Piven of "Entourage," who won as best supporting actor as obnoxious agent Ari Gold for the third year, even was moved to turn television critic. "What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes and nothing happened?" said Piven. "That was the opening."

The Academy should have persuaded Ricky Gervais or Jimmy Kimmel to host the show because they got the most laughs and at least have something to say. Kimmel almost made the endless bit near the program's end of giving phony tension to the winner of the reality show host competition (Probst) work.

The night's trend was set early when six of the first seven awards went to cable actors or programs that had relatively small audiences compared with network hits. The only network star to get an award in the first two hours was best supporting actress Jean Smart of "Samantha Who?"

The first cable winner was Zeljko Ivanek ("Damages"), the terrific veteran character actor whose name was mangled by the presenter. In his speech, the native of Slovenia thanked (Buffalo writer) "Tom Fontana and the Academy for making my family very happy." Presumably, he was thanking Fontana for casting him 15 years ago in "Homicide: Life on the Street." He also starred in Fontana's HBO series, "Oz."

It was a down year for HBO series, but it had wins for best TV movie ("Recount"), best miniseries ("John Adams") best actress in a TV miniseries or movie (Laura Linney of "John Adams"), best actor in a TV miniseries or movie (Paul Giamatti of "John Adams") and best supporting dramatic actress in a series (Dianne Wiest of "In Treatment").

Since so many of the nominated actors and shows weren't well known, the show's producers desperately tried to find creative ways to get viewers interested by involving more recognizable names like the actresses of "Desperate Housewives" and showing clips from old shows and old victory speeches.

Steve Martin was kidding when he said Tommy Smothers was getting a commemorative Emmy by the television academy "in an effort to kill time." But the line worked because the program appeared to be a primer in how to kill time.

One of the best one-liners was made by Barry Sonnenfeld, best director winner for "Pushing Daisies." He ended his speech with this thoughtful line: "Love TV and fear the Internet."

Of course, there are bigger things to fear -- like censorship. At the end of his speech, Tommy Smothers made a political statement without mentioning a candidate by defining the word truth.

"Truth is . . . what you get other people to believe," said Tommy.

The truth is, I imagine most Republicans and Democrats will agree that this Emmy telecast was its least entertaining in history.

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