Few magic moments in sea of hype

TV Review

September 23, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The 54th Annual Emmy Awards certainly didn't have the kind of magic or resonance that the Oscar telecast did in April with its long overdue celebration of African-American achievement, but you have to admit it was nice to see longevity rewarded the way it was last night.

From Ray Romano, Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond finally getting some industry acclaim, to Friends winning for best comedy and Jennifer Aniston winning best comedy actress, it was the year of the long-distance runners in comedy awards.

The story was much the same in drama, with the durable and consistently solid Stockard Channing winning two awards, one for her supporting work in The West Wing and the other for her starring role in the made-for-television movie, The Matthew Shepard Story.

And then there was the emotional win by Michael Chiklis for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Lt. Vic Mackey in The Shield on cable channel FX. Chiklis, a long-time television performer considered a mere journeyman by some, finally got his due, and you could feel how much it meant to him.

There was even a deeper sort of longevity also rewarded with HBO's Band of Brothers, the story of one of the most heroic military units in World War II, taking home the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries. The award honored the lives and service of the soldiers it portrayed, as well as the men and women of that generation. It provided a genuinely uplifting moment in a generally uninspired and self-serving telecast by NBC.

A lesson to be learned from last night's telecast is that you cannot manufacture genuine emotion. The Academy tried twice last night, with its first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award going to Oprah Winfrey, and then Rudy Giuliani announcing a Governors Award to the four broadcast networks for their performance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 - as if the cable channels were off the air.

Winfrey got a standing ovation when her award was announced, but the applause seemed more obligatory than inspired. Even the folks in Hollywood seemed to know there is a disconnect between the terms humanitarian and talk-show host.

As far as the telecast itself, NBC came out tooting its own horn and never let up. The first two interviews done by Today show hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer during an hourlong walkup to the show were with NBC stars. Lauer was the most shameless, opening his interview with Debra Messing of NBC's Will & Grace, saying, "Let me start out by flattering you. There are those who say you are this generation's Lucille Ball."

I like Messing, but she's no generation's Lucille Ball.

Meanwhile, Lauer and Couric treated HBO and other cable shows as if they were limited to a small cult of viewers. Lauer began his chat with Rachel Griffiths of Six Feet Under by saying, "Your show isn't exactly a Norman Rockwell movie, now is it?"

(No, Matt, it wouldn't be. For one thing, Rockwell didn't make movies.)

And how about fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi out on the red carpet for NBC interviewing NBC performers like Dennis Farina, star of one of the most horrid of NBC's new sitcoms, In-Laws.

"I'm sure we're all just going to love the new show," Mizrahi gushed.

(No, Isaac, we won't. The critics hate it, and I think America will, too.)

The self-interest of NBC extended to its choice of a host, Conan O'Brien.

"It's a rough crowd," O'Brien said when his fourth joke met with the same silence as his first three. O'Brien never seemed to connect with the audience in any meaningful way.

You can place some of the blame for the less than magical telecast on the fact that HBO's The Sopranos, by far the most important series on television, was ineligible for last night's awards, and none of the cast or crew were on hand. You can also blame it on a general lack of excitement for an exceptionally weak new network season, for which the telecast has traditionally served as a kickoff. The absence of Emmy winners like David Letterman and Albert Finney didn't help either.

But, in the end, there is another lesson to be learned along with the one that says you can't manufacture genuine emotion. And that's that sometimes long, steady, consistently solid work is rewarded even in the land of hustle, image and flash.

That's a message worth suffering through four hours of NBC's hype to have heard.

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