Despite an opening with jokes at the expense of the Emmys, the 2014 Emmy telecast proved to be a mostly well-paced, comedy-fueled celebration of television.
Host Seth Meyers got off to a somewhat rocky start. Acknowledging the move to Monday night and an August airdate was a good way to begin, but his jokes lingered on these topics too long. He hauled out a surely in-reserve uh-oh-that-joke-flopped line — “Jokes are like nominees; they can’t all be winners” — too early for comfort, but then he just as quickly recovered with a string of jokes that were inside TV but not too inside.
Mr. Meyers acknowledged controversy over the categories some shows were submitted in — “Comedies that made you laugh and comedies that made you cry because they were dramas submitted as comedies,” a nudge at “Orange Is the New Black” getting a comedy nomination — and then made a series of jokes about the past year in TV. Mr. Meyers made fun of the ending of “How I Met Your Mother” and the deaths of TV characters (“If you’re an actor on ‘Game of Thrones,’ you wait for next week’s script the way most people wait for biopsy results.”)
Mr. Meyers also made some industry jokes about broadcasters’ glee seeing streaming services take Emmy nominations away from cable networks: “Not very nice when someone younger comes along, is it, cable?”
Mr. Meyers and the show’s producers leaned heavily into comedy, perhaps a reaction to last year’s downer of an Emmycast. The In Memoriam segment and Billy Crystal’s touching tribute to Robin Williams didn’t air until about 10:10 p.m.
Mr. Meyers ceded the spotlight to other comedians, including presenter Jimmy Kimmel and Billy Eichner, who did a hilarious Emmy-themed routine from his under-the-radar Fuse series “Billy on the Street.”
Generally the laughs quotient declined through the night, especially the preplanned bits among the nominees. The Julia Louis-Dreyfus exchange with former “Seinfeld” guest star Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) was a hoot; the Jimmy Fallon-Stephen Colbert acceptance speech bit later in the telecast was not. Sofia Vergara as an auto show model seemed dishearteningly retro.
Still, the major downside to the telecast was … the winners.
There were too many repeat winners, too few surprises. This is nothing new. Hope springs eternal that one of these days the Emmy voters will actually watch TV rather than voting for the same winners again and again, but every year such hope is quickly quashed.
Monday night’s biggest mistake? Overlooking newcomer Allison Tolman of “Fargo.” One solace: “Fargo” itself deservingly won best miniseries.
And now a few awards for the telecast itself:
The preshow truth comes out: The E! Emmy preshow was lacking Ryan Seacrest — because the Emmys aired on Monday, Mr. Seacrest was too busy with his radio and “Today” duties, according to The Washington Post — so Giuliana Rancic took over. She said Mr. Seacrest called in sick: “His spray tan went bad.” Ms. Rancic’s approach — utter a statement at a celeb rather than ask a question — didn’t sit well with Sarah Silverman, who noted, “You just put a microphone in front of me. You didn’t say a question.”
Ms. Rancic had a quick response: “I don’t get paid enough to ask questions. I just expect you to do the work.”
Network preshow lame as ever: At least the E! show is fun. It always seems like the broadcast network preshow, whether it’s for the Oscars on ABC or whichever network airs the Emmys, turns out lame and formulaic with robotic hosts. This year it was Shaun Robinson, who did at least ask questions, and the unctuous Billy Bush, who always comes across like a modern Eddie Haskell.
Celebrity couple no-show: “Modern Family” nominee Sofia Vergara did not bring boyfriend of 2½ months, Mt. Lebanon native Joe Manganiello, with her to the Emmys. “We’re having a lot of fun,” Ms. Vergara. “He’s a really funny guy, which is something really important to me. He’s a really nice guy.” So why not bring him with her? “I thought he was too hot for the red carpet.”
Best response to silly new gizmo: E! introduced a “Clutch Cam” where the stars were expected to put their tiny purses so viewers at home could get a close-up view. “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus had the best response to it: “Wouldn’t it be funny if I went over there and [my purse] was gone?”
Best TV-themed commercial: The Ricky Gervais-starring ad for Netflix was a hoot with Mr. Gervais playing Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards” and an inmate in “Orange Is the New Black,” with all his co-stars mocking his accent.
Even bad ideas can be salvaged: Seth Meyers’ Emmys Q&A with celebs playing numbskulls started out poorly with Jon Hamm but got better as it went along with Melissa McCarthy asking about parking issues and former “Good Wife” star Josh Charles handing over a restroom key attached to an Emmy trophy so nominee Andre Braugher could get into the bathroom.
But sometimes bad ideas are just bad ideas: Stephen Colbert and his imaginary friend routine was not funny. And some ideas are inspired but poorly executed, which was the case with Weird Al Yankovic’s re-interpretation of TV show theme songs.
Best grammar lesson: “Nerdist” host Chris Hardwick offered a public service announcement for Internet trolls: “Your is a possessive pronoun.
You’re is the contraction of you are, as in, you’re bad at your grammar.”
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.