Tuned In: Emmy Awards telecast a bit of a downer

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If the Emmy telecast had a theme, it was sadness and death.

From a downer of a Liberace tribute by Elton John to an homage to 1963 to individual In Memoriam segments seemingly every 15 minutes, the Emmy telecast was a depress-a-thon.

Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris saved the show from disaster, but he did disappoint somewhat, adding to the overall pall of the proceedings.

Returning to host a prime-time awards show just three months after his heralded gig hosting the Tonys, Mr. Harris opted not to begin the Emmy telecast with another energetic song-and-dance number, an understandable -- if disappointing -- creative choice, made more so by what was used instead.

In a pretaped bit, Mr. Harris was escorted by a security guard, played by CBS president and former actor Leslie Moonves, into a building to binge watch all the TV shows from the 2012-13 TV season, giving producers an excuse to play clips from popular shows. It evolved into a semi-funny commentary on the wealth of reality show judges who were edited to appear as though they were yelling at one another.

Once he emerged on stage, Mr. Harris made a few jokes before he was joined by a phalanx of past Emmy hosts (Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien), and the show's opening seemed headed nowhere fast until Kevin Spacey, in character as his scheming politician from Netflix's "House of Cards," turned toward the camera and revealed the lame multi-host banter was part of his plan.

That highlight was followed by 2013 Golden Globe Awards hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as a distaff Statler and Waldorf (from "The Muppet Show"). They encouraged Mr. Harris to take off his pants.

"Yeah, it might be degrading, but we would be de-grateful," Ms. Poehler quipped.

Beyond the mixed bag telecast kickoff, Mr. Harris was his usual, affable, amusing self, helping to move the broadcast along. He did appear in a song-and-dance number midway through the telecast. It seemed perfunctory and not as well designed as his Tonys bit; a later choreography tribute offered more interesting dance work and visuals.

A skit featured Mr. Harris' "How I Met Your Mother" co-stars, who staged an intervention for his Excessive Hosting Disorder. It wasn't the funniest sketch ever but was worth it for mention of the Ryan Seacrest Center for Excessive Hosting Disorder if nothing else.

Producers made good choices in jazzing up the nominee reels for several writing and directing comedy categories by having nominees put their comedy skills to work.

As for the voters, they made many unexpected choices, including Bobby Cannavale ("Boardwalk Empire") over Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad"), Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom") over Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Claire Danes ("Homeland") over what would have been a history-making win by Kerry Washington (the "Scandal" star would have been the first African-American actress to win in the best drama actress category), ruining Emmy pools among TV devotees across the country.

There was much chatter in recent days about the Emmy producers playing favorites with the In Memoriam segment, giving too much time to the late Cory Monteith, according to the son of the late Jack Klugman, than to his father and others. Adam Klugman accused the Emmy producers of highlighting Monteith to draw ratings and I'm sure that was a calculus, but Monteith was just one of several dead celebrities given longer tributes and all the others were older. Why not spread the attention around among the generations? Everyone has his or her opinion on who should get the most attention. (Personally, I was appalled that the late Larry Hagman, whose J.R. Ewing was an icon of the medium, was not included in a longer tribute segment.) Worse yet, these longer tributes had no clips of those being remembered, which was odd.

And now a few awards to the telecast itself:

Most unexpected response to a preshow interview: On E! Zosia Mamet described encountering a "Girls" fan on the subway who described imitating Ms. Mamet's "Girls" character's facial expressions during sex with her husband.

Worst E! gimmick: The Mani-Cam, which showed an actresses' manicured nails and asked viewers to stay tuned to learn who the nails belonged to.

Best gag that might have confused viewers: Tony Hale, who won an Emmy for his role as assistant to the vice president on "Veep," joined Julia Louis-Dreyfus on stage to whisper in her ear, just as his character does on the show, a gag that may have been lost on non-HBO subscribers.

Best acceptance speech: "Nurse Jackie" co-star Merritt Wever accepting her best supporting comedy actress trophy said only, "Oh, my God! Thank you. Thanks so much. Thank you so much. I've got to go. Bye." Later she explained to reporters she was surprised and didn't know how to feel about winning.

Most inexplicable bad choice: An Elton John tribute to Liberace. Yes, there was the movie "Liberace" on HBO, but in no other way did this musical time waster connect to TV.

Best hope for the Golden Globes: E! host Ryan Seacrest got Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation") to commit to talking to Tina Fey about reprising their roles as hosts of the January awardscast. "The idea of getting to see Tina in any form is always nice," Ms. Poehler said.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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