News Column

2013 Primetime Emmys: Will people watch? What firsts may happen? Plus producer defends Cory Monteith memeorandum

September 19, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 19--There is a decent matchup tonight between the Steelers and Bears on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Showtime has series finale of "Dexter" -- which will tell us the fate of everyone's favorite serial killer. On AMC it will be only penultimate "Breaking Bad," as Walt has not only gone off the deep end, but is digging a very large hole for everyone else.

Fans of those shows aren't going to be content to wait until Monday to find out what happens. And who watches a football game the next day? It's a pretty good night for television -- and, oh yeah, the 65th Primetime Emmys are being held at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles; the show will be telecast on CBS.

Sure, fans of "Boardwalk Empire" may be willing to DVR the crime show to see the television industry celebrate itself. But they also may want to watch the program on before it, a rerun of "Beyond the Candelabra." Speaking of Emmys, the HBO movie has already won eight this year, handed out at last Sunday's Creative Arts Awards. "Boardwalk" took home four, making HBO the biggest winner with a total of 20 that night.

Tonight's ceremony involves the more glamorous categories -- best drama, comedy, actresses and actors. So weirdly it comes down to this: Would you rather watch some of the most entertaining stuff on TV or watch people babbling on about the best stuff on TV? The word is that the television Academy is going to move next year's telecast back to late August to avoid nights like this.

With its previous wins, "Candelabra" has a chance to tie HBO's "John Adams" for most Emmys for a movie or miniseries. For the record, going into tonight's show, HBO's nearest competitor is CBS with 15 wins while NBC has 11. CBS's "Undercover Boss" won best reality show, "South Park" was named best animated show, and "Project Runway's" Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn took the best reality host award. Guest actor/actress categories brought an Emmy to comedy legend Bob Newhart -- amazingly his first -- for a role on "The Big Bang Theory," and Oscar-winner Melissa Leo won for a turn on "Louie."

Meanwhile, the streaming service Netflix -- a non-network -- made history when it won two Emmys last week for its highly acclaimed series "House of Cards," including outstanding casting for a drama series and outstanding cinematography for a single camera series. The real question is: Will "House of Cards" make even more history if it takes the best drama statuette or if Kevin Spacey wins as the best actor in a drama? They are both real possibilities.

Another potential breakthrough would be if Kerry Washington wins best actress for "Scandal." Debbie Allen ("Fame") and Regina Taylor ("I'll Fly Away") were nominated in this category, but Washington would be the first African-American actress to win for playing the lead role in an ongoing drama series.

As for the Emmy telecast itself, in a teleconference Wednesday, executive producer Ken Ehrlich and Jack Sussman, head of CBS Specials, were tight-lipped about specifics. They did spend a lot of time defending their already announced selections for the "In Memoriam" segments that will be scattered throughout the show.

Jane Lynch will pay tribute to her "Glee" co-star Cory Monteith, while Edie Falco will remember "Sopranos" co-star James Gandolfini. Michael J. Fox will honor "Family Ties" producer Gary David Goldberg, Rob Reiner his "All in the Family" co-star Jean Stapleton, and Robin Williams will pay homage to his friend and mentor Jonathan Winters ("Mork and Mindy").

Some have wondered about the inclusion of "Glee's" Monteith, who had a relatively brief career, instead of Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman, two deceased longtime TV stars who had multiple hit shows.

"No matter what we do, there will be people who feel we had other options and could have done other things," Ehrlich said. "In all candor, this becomes a producer's option. And in this case, we selected these five knowing certainly others could be treated this way."

The producer admitted that the cultural impact of "Glee" played a part in the selection of Monteith, who died of a drug overdose in July.

"It was a rather personal choice -- Cory's appeal is to a different generation," said Ehrlich. "At 31, he passed away under very different circumstances. It was important to be responsible to the younger viewers to whom Cory meant perhaps as much as these other individuals meant to their own generations."

Earlier on Wednesday, Ehrlich and Sussman announced a segment to be presented by Don Cheadle that will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and television coverage of the event. Because of television, Ehrlich noted, "it was the first time a country mourned collectively for the death of a president." The tribute will also look forward 80 days to the 50th anniversary performance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show on Feb.9, 1964. Carrie Underwood will perform songs from the era, and although the producers would not reveal which ones, Sussman acknowledged that there would be Beatle tunes.

Why Underwood? "The connection is obvious," said Ehrlich. "Television helped make the Beatles in 1964, and Carrie Underwood is one of the first examples of a reality competition show creating a star in recent times."

Woven into a musical tribute by Elton John to pianist and TV star Liberace, the subject of the biopic "Behind the Candelabra," will be a presentation by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, stars of the HBO movie. (Douglas and Damon are facing off in the lead actor in a mini series or movie category.)

There will also be a dance number about television featuring Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris that was created by the nominees for choreography, which is being celebrated for the first time in the primetime telecast. Ehrlich promised other "surprises" and naturally wouldn't say anything about the show's opening number except, "It will open in a way that is definitely unexpected."

One surprise might be if the show stays within its three-hour time slot, considering how much the producers are trying to get in.

As for acceptance speeches, "We want to give the winners their moment," Sussman said, but then warned ominously that they must "keep the show moving."

The Creative Arts show tried to impose a new 45-second limit on winners to walk to the stage and make their acceptance speech. Don't expect anything like that on the primetime show.

So should the Emmys be like the Grammys, which cuts most of the awards in favor of performance?

"Viewers want to be entertained," Sussman said. "Ultimately, if you could put more entertainment in it, you'd probably make a better show."

You see the dilemma? Maybe if they showed us "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad" instead and ran the winners names on a crawl at the bottom of the screen like on football game, it would solve the problem.

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