Emmy Awards show suffers from too much polish and predictability

August 26, 1991|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

SO DON'T complain about the Emmy Awards show -- it ended on time.

Not that that stopped comedian co-hosts Dennis Miller and Jerry Seinfeld from telling their boy-this-was-a-long-show closing jokes -- never let the facts get in the way of a good line -- but it was just a minute or two past the three-hour mark when the closing credits ran.

Actually, such punctuality typified what was wrong with last night's show, the 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards broadcast live by the Fox network.

Everything seemed to go according to schedule, according to a predictable, pre-arranged plan, while the appeal of such awards shows -- other than a little star and clothes ogling -- is in their unpredictability.

That's not to say the awards themselves were predictable. They never are. You might as well throw darts at a list of the nominees as try to make an informed guess about who will actually win.

For example, who could have predicted Lynn Whitfield's portrayal of the title character in HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story" would beat out Glenn Close's performance in "Sarah, Plain and Tall" in the Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special category? And Whitfield's husband and director Brian Gibson also won an Emmy. You've got to figure those Blue Ribbon Panel members who screened all the shows a few weekends ago and chose the winners liked those made-for-cable nude scenes.

Or how about the strong British representation -- the superb "House of Cards" winning an award for best writing in a miniseries, while John Gielgud took the lead actor award in the miniseries category for "Summer's Lease," both beating out strong domestic fields? Those productions were shown on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre," which got a special Governor's Award Emmy of its own.

The awards might have had a bit of unpredictability, but the show itself did not -- it appeared to be carefully scripted and

controlled. There was little chance for those special moments to sneak in and upset this well-balanced apple cart.

The Emmys, Oscars and other events of that ilk have become nothing more than TV shows. It's similar to what happened to the political conventions. It used to be the cameras came to these exotic events, bringing TV viewers a glimpse of something that they could rarely see. But then the cameras became the reason for the event, and the events, in turn, were planned for the cameras' benefit.

It's those unpredictable moments that come across as genuine. The best last night was Patricia Wettig's tearful reaction to getting the award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her work on the last season of "thirtysomething." It was an emotional public farewell to the character of Nancy Weston.

On the comedic side, there was Kirstie Alley -- her Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award was one of four for "Cheers" last night -- thanking her husband Parker Stevenson for giving her "the big one" for all these years.

A few moments after that, Burt Reynolds, getting his Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, thanked his wife Loni Anderson for giving him the big one -- "actually, the big two," he added a moment later -- and you got a feeling for how much fun these shows can be when a bit of spontaneity occurs.

But, for some reason, there seemed little opportunity for spontaneity to happen. And whenever it did, the I'm-not-impressed attitudes of Miller and Seinfeld quickly dampened the flames.

Gilbert Gottfried did provide one of the lower moments in Emmy history with an inspired by Pee-wee Herman routine on $l masturbation, an unfunny segment in a show supposedly dedicated to comedy, a theme that fell as flat as the sitcom clips that lead into commercials -- they were mostly uninspired choices.

Scripted, polished and packaged into its three-hour time slot -- so squeezed in that there was no mention of the awards given out the night before, including two to "The Civil War" series on PBS and a Guest Actress, Comedy Series Emmy to the late Colleen Dewhurst -- the Emmy Awards came off not as a big event, but as just another second-rate comedy-variety show. Sort of like the Oscar program. Of course, Television Academy members thought that show was good enough to deserve a bunch of Emmys ( "The 63rd Annual Academy Awards" won for Best Variety, Music or Comedy Program, as well as a writing award, and Billy Crystal received an Emmy for best individual performance in that category). Go figure.

And the winners...

Here is a list of winners in top categories for the 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES: James Earl Jones, "Gabriel's Fire," ABC.

LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES: Patricia Wettig, "thirtysomething," ABC.


LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY SERIES: Kirstie Alley, "Cheers," NBC.

LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES: Burt Reynolds, "Evening Shade," CBS.


LEAD ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR SPECIAL: Lynn Whitfield, "The Josephine Baker Story," HBO.

LEAD ACTOR, MINISERIES OR SPECIAL: John Gielgud, "Masterpiece Theatre: Summer's Lease," PBS.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE, VARIETY OR MUSIC PROGRAM: Billy Crystal, "The 63rd Annual Academy Awards," ABC.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES: Madge Sinclair, "Gabriel's Fire," ABC.

SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES: Timothy Busfield, "thirtysomething," ABC.


SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES: Jonathan Winters, "Davis Rules," ABC.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR SPECIAL: Ruby Dee, "Hallmark Hall of Fame: Decoration Day," NBC.



GUEST ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES: Peggy McCay, "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," CBS.

GUEST ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES: David Opatoshu, "Gabriel's Fire," ABC.

GUEST ACTRESS, COMEDY SERIES: Colleen Dewhurst (posthumous) "Murphy Brown," CBS.

GUEST ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES: Jay Thomas, "Murphy Brown," CBS.


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