"From where I was sitting, the 2019 Emmys simply came off as bitter and shady," says Judy Berman. "Maybe we were tasting the sour grapes of a network that didn’t have a single nominee among the televised categories," she says of Fox, while pointing out that sibling cable network FX took home some awards. As Berman notes, the word "sucks" was used a couple times to describe the Emmys on the Emmys, from Jimmy Kimmel to Thomas Lennon. "You just don’t usually hear people who are supposed to be legitimizing the whole song and dance with their enthusiastic presence outright trashing it, ostensibly with the network’s blessing, on live TV," says Berman. "As it turned out, the strangest thing about this year’s Emmys telecast—one that also featured multiple major trophies for a dark British dramedy adapted from a one-woman Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, before concluding with a victory for what may be the worst season of television to ever clinch best drama—was its tone, which at times shot straight past self-deprecation all the way to self-hatred. Entertainment award shows have been somewhat restrained in the Trump era, it’s true. And we’ve seen some additional (mostly female) anger and (mostly male) self-flagellation since #MeToo started sweeping through the industry in the fall of 2017. Yet the negative vibes emanating from the Microsoft Theater, this time, felt different—more mean-spirited and nihilistic than contrite. So many elements of the ceremony radiated apathy or derision toward TV in general."
The 2019 Emmys combined the exciting new TV landscape with the basic incompetency of legacy networks: "The show itself was a nothing, full of forgettable bits, janky montages, a gauche amount of Fox self-promotion, and only a modicum of spectacle. This was an Emmys without a host, too many Masked Singer shout-outs, way too many in memoriams for ended TV shows (three separate segments about various just-finished series!), and basically nothing funny or witty about it," says Willa Paskin. "(Apologies to Thomas Lennon, who as the person cracking wise while the winners walked to the stage, drew the short straw, and did his best.) But it was also an Emmys that celebrated Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jodie Comer, Billy Porter, Bill Hader, Drag Race, Jharrel Jerome, Patricia Arquette, Succession, Chernobyl, and Michelle Williams. In other words, it’s a show whose badness was masked by the voters, who had the good taste to award Emmys to people who deserved Emmys."
No wonder people seemed to have stopped caring about these things, as ratings freefalls suggest: "This year’s host-free, focus-free, fun-free telecast seemed to not care even about itself," says Kevin Fallon. "Fox produced one of the most phoned-in awards ceremonies I can remember watching in years. It’s shameful, really, considering how refreshingly deserving many of the winners were and, from an entertainment-value standpoint, how beautiful and impactful the speeches they gave were, too. You have Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sweep for Fleabag, a show so unlike something the Emmys would normally reward it seems to have misunderstood what it is about entirely, referring to it as 'a show about a sex addict' in presenter banter. (It is so many wonderful things. It is not that.) Thank goodness voters knew better and rose above such denigration."
That Emmys opener was extremely awkward but blessedly short: "We all knew that the Emmys were going hostless this year, and that it had Absolutely Nothing to Do With the fact that the Oscars had done the same thing earlier this year and experienced an actual (and rare) ratings bump," says Mary McNamara. "No, Fox — which, coincidentally, is the only network without a late-night host that it can draft, er, invite to serve — decided to go commando all on its own in the interest, we were told, of offering a more instructive look at the wonderful world of television. The opening minutes certainly offered a brisk tutorial on how not to open an awards show."
The opening sequence encapsulated much of the overall vibe of the night: "There was cheerful self-promotion (the first 'man' to walk out on stage was arguably Fox’s biggest star, Homer Simpson)," says Kristen Baldwin, "clumsy transitions (it took a few seconds too long for the audience, and viewers at home, to realize that Black-ish star Anthony Anderson was jumping in to 'save the Emmys' when Homer was crushed by a falling piano), and an ill-fitting attempt at gravitas (Emmy winner and former Fox star Bryan Cranston channeled his LBJ solemnity to deliver a tribute to the power of the medium: 'Television has never been bigger, television has never mattered more, and television has never been this damn good'). Once the 'edgy' upstart network, Fox has now settled into its role as broadcast’s aging former rebel. Some of the producers’ decisions ... felt very 'I’m not a regular grandpa, I’m a cool grandpa,' like the often-incongruous transition music."
The Emmy bits were the night's big losers: "The thing about going hostless—which the Emmys did on Sunday for the first time since 2003—is that all of that extra time has to go somewhere," says Miles Surrey. '(Or, you know, they could make awards shows shorter [gets shot with poison dart by television executive.) And unfortunately, the Emmys’ lack of a unifying presence resulted in the show leaning hard into bits that just weren’t … working. Ben Stiller did a bit with wax figures; Adam Devine did a bit with dancing; Maya Rudolph and Ike Barinholtz did a bit about LASIK eye surgery. There were, of course, some exceptions—Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bill Hader are lovely and should share the screen again under some other circumstance. But, like, c’mon, nobody in that Emmys audience wanted to help Ken Jeong with his TikTok video—and nobody at home wanted to watch it go on for ages."
The yawn-worthy ceremony was saved by a great slate of winners: "Normally, when a show that was this much of a foregone conclusion ends an awards ceremony triumphant, especially a series I was this mixed on — for its final season, at least — that's a recipe for a bad awards show," says Daniel Fienberg. "But Sunday night saw the TV Academy largely break out of years of heavily mocked complacency and banality. The results weren't perfect, but they were often outstanding and very frequently surprising. For every thing that made me confused or frustrated — Jason Bateman for the self-imposed task of directing Ozark episodes without turning on the lights? — there were four or five wins that made this normally grumpy critic sit up and go, 'Holy cow, they got that right!' But normally when an awards show gets this many winners correct and is able to deliver this many passionate, emotional and thought-provoking speeches, that's a recipe for a good kudocast. Nope. I'm going to praise the voting, but I'm here to critique the things producers Don Mischer and Ian Stewart did right or wrong, not to reward them for things they got lucky on and as a telecast, the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards got lucky a lot and made one bad choice after another."
Emmy recognition for Pose and Fleabag offered hope for smaller shows: "Shows as fundamentally themselves as Fleabag and Pose have been getting made for years," says Daniel D'Addario. "(Fleabag’s first, Emmy-less season hit Amazon in 2016.) But now they actually stand a chance of recognition on a grand scale, one that still matters and will only matter more the more it actually finds what is great and not merely what is familiar. The night’s other recipient of a major mid-show tribute, HBO’s Game of Thrones, seemed for a dangerous and thrilling moment vulnerable after losing writing and directing prizes to Succession and Ozark, respectively. While a series as big as Thrones winning is a just recognition of its place in television history, the chipping-away at its fortunes by two new, scrappy contenders beloved by smaller but devoted factions makes clear its role in the firmament is, indeed, history."
The Emmys finally looked to the future with this year's ceremony: "Not so long ago, the Emmys were known for predictable winners," says Jen Chaney. "For four years in a row, Mad Men won Outstanding Drama. For five consecutive years, Modern Family won Outstanding Comedy, and for three years in a row after that, Veep won in the same category. The acting categories occasionally veered toward something different: a win for Rami Malek in Mr. Robot, Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, or Donald Glover in Atlanta. But generally speaking, at a time when the television landscape began expanding at a rapid pace, the Emmys did not reflect the newness being written on the TV wall. The 2019 Emmys were different. This year’s ceremony still looked to the past, but they also more blatantly leaned toward the future than the Emmys ever have before. Fleabag, which delivered an exceptional, extremely buzzy second and (apparently) final season, beat the odds-on favorite, the swan song for Veep, in the Outstanding Comedy category. Fleabag practically swept the whole genre, scooping up awards for writing and lead actress for Phoebe Waller-Bridge and for director Harry Bradbeer. Veep, which had 17 Emmy wins to its credit before Sunday night, came away empty-handed."
The Emmys gave us a glimpse of the post-Game of Thrones TV world: "The show itself was far more focused on the end of an era than the dawn of a new one," says Alison Herman. Both Game of Thrones and Veep, in a seeming indication the Academy shared our assumptions regarding who would dominate the comedy categories, earned stand-alone tributes to their final seasons. In a bizarre, part-celebratory, mostly mournful ritual, each series’ entire cast was brought onstage to invoke nostalgia and stage a reunion. The official In Memoriam montage would come later, but these gatherings felt like they came from a similar place—except, instead of grieving individuals, the Emmys seemed to be grieving a form of monocultural dominance that was gone almost as soon as it started."