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The Emmys failed to reflect a TV landscape that is exciting, daring and more abundant than ever

  • "The Emmys celebrated a TV landscape proliferated with more good programming than ever before, but then voters proceeded to give basically every award at their disposal to Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown," says Daniel Fienberg. "Hacks and Mare of Easttown at least broke the monotony a tiny bit, but following a year in which Schitt’s Creek, Succession and Watchmen were, if possible, even more dominant, it would be hard for anybody to dispute that for all of the available great television, Emmy voters appear to notice only the smallest portion of it and not, let’s be perfectly candid, the most ambitious corner of it. Sunday’s biggest winners were a pair of stately, well-produced period dramas, an underdog sports comedy that proudly cribbed its core storyline from Major League and the now-annual onslaught of wins for Last Week Tonight, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Saturday Night Live. TV in 2021 is exciting and daring. TV in 2021 is pushing the aesthetic edge of the envelope. TV is welcoming new voices and new storytelling paradigms. Mostly, you wouldn’t know that from watching the Emmys." As for the ceremony itself, Fienberg adds: "The return to a hosted telecast was probably overdue, after a run of recent award shows jumping on the MC-less bandwagon. Cedric the Entertainer tried reasonably hard and I guess I’d say that the show wasn’t a referendum on whether hosts are necessary or unnecessary, but a reminder that even if you have a host you still need to have writers with clever ideas for the host. The show lacked that. The flimsy sketches ranged from slightly amusing but too long, like the support group for Emmy non-winners, to slightly amusing but too random to really be funny, like Cedric being confronted by his three past sitcom waves, to just plane horrible, like whatever that thing was where they built a multi-minute sketch around the fly that got lodged on Mike Pence’s head during the vice presidential debate ELEVEN MONTHS AGO. Topical humor, you’re doing it wrong. The show was generally strangely directed. Did anybody get a real sense of the layout of the venue? I sure didn’t. It felt crowded and uninspiringly laid out for the COVID moment, like they might as well have just used a normal theater, but it wasn’t easy to tell. For all of the intimacy, the camera never quite seemed to know where to go and the director failed to recognize certain emerging and running jokes. At a certain point, one camera needed to be trained on Conan O’Brien 100 percent of the time, because nobody was having more fun on Emmy night, yet several of his reactions were missed entirely. And I’m never going to be a fan of an In Memoriam segment in which two living musical acts are front-and-center and the slideshow honoring departing icons is in the background or even the back corner. Ending the necrology with the powerful statement from Michael Kenneth Williams was powerful, but the industry lost some real titans this year and they deserved the focus over Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste, as indisputably gifted as they are."

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    • At some point, it becomes a turnoff when a single show wins too many Emmys: "Last year’s Emmy haul for Schitt’s Creek was a historic one, as the Pop TV comedy became the first ongoing series to ever sweep all seven of the awards — the four acting categories, plus writing, directing, and Outstanding Comedy Series — presented in the primetime telecast," says Alan Sepinwall. "Because that night’s show largely covered one genre at a time, the sweep seemed even more dominant, since the first hour or so just kept cutting to the same Toronto venue where the Schitt’s cast and crew were remotely attending the pandemic-altered ceremony. When the show’s co-creator and co-star Dan Levy won in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy category midway through this run, he looked a bit anxious, quipping, 'The internet is about to turn on me, I’m so sorry.' What Levy understood so keenly is that even when a show or movie is widely beloved, there’s a point at which too much success can be a turnoff. Not coincidentally, the sweep was followed by the first negative discourse of any kind Schitt’s had received, even if much of it was along the lines of, 'Yeah, it was a good show, but was it that good?' The rest of last year’s Emmys featured results that were nearly but not quite as steamroller-ish, with Watchmen and Succession scooping up most of the trophies in the Limited Series and Drama categories, respectively. If not for the novelty of host Jimmy Kimmel and the producers having to reinvent awards show tropes for quarantine times, it would have been a terribly predictable night. Because the same actors and shows so often win again and again and again, I’ve often joked that the easiest way to win an Emmy is to have already won an Emmy. But lately, it’s gone from a year-to-year thing to a minute-to-minute thing. And in the process, it’s made what’s already the dullest of the four major awards shows — lacking the performance component of the Grammys and Tonys and, to a degree, the glamour of the Oscars — an especially tough sit. Kimmel and company largely avoided the problem through structural ingenuity, and this year’s Emmys producers attempted to address it by mixing the genres back together, assuming that one or more of Ted Lasso, The Crown, and Mare of Easttown would have Schitt’s Creek-esque runs. As it turned out, only The Crown achieved what awards show expert Mark Harris referred to on Twitter as 'the Full Schitt,' taking home all seven drama trophies awarded Sunday night, including Netflix’s first-ever Emmy in a series category."
    • No more award show bits!: "End all awards show bits. That’s the lesson.," says Kevin Fallon. "The Emmys winners did the show for them. They were all (mostly) great. There were surprises sprinkled throughout, the kind of fun that shocks TV critics watching alone on their couch with some rosé and makes them stand up reflexively and start clapping about. The speeches were great. The energy was ecstatic. The stars looked like a million bucks and delivered Hollywood charisma and polish. We needed that. We needed them. And they were giving it. I cannot remember an award show in which the host did the proceedings such a disservice. Cedric the Entertainer actually did a Mike Pence fly-on-the-head sketch, in this, the month of September in the year of our lord 2021. He brought Dr. Phil into the equation. DR. PHIL. Into what was supposed to be the woke, progressive, 'we’re pointing the way toward the more enlightened industry' telecast. Frankly, into any telecast. (Please read.) Dr. Phil! On my TV screen, to entertain the masses. Ted Lasso and The Crown won a whole lot of awards on Sunday night, to the point that Twitter snarks wondered if anyone had watched anything else on TV. Mare of Easttown was almost getting those scoffs, too, except whoever voted for Limited Series noticed that I May Destroy You, which should have won every award (including ones it was not nominated for), The Queen’s Gambit, and Halston also exist. As a TV critic, I have wondered who, exactly, watched Halston. Now that it’s won a prestigious acting award, I wonder more than ever… who? We’re post-COVID. We’re in COVID. We’ve had a racial reckoning. No one will say what that means. We hate awards shows. We tune into awards shows. And no one can make up their minds about how they feel about f*cking Ted Lasso. What I’m saying is that this year’s Emmy Awards telecast was the best and worst argument for the ways in which Hollywood systems have and have not changed. That is a sentence that makes no sense, because the situation we are in makes no sense. So how dare this award show not directly address that? But also, how could it?? And how dare it not???"
    • CBS was so eager to embrace normalcy that "boring" became the high water mark: "It’s been a scary time and everyone seemed thrilled to be in a room together again," says Kathryn VanArendonk and Jackson McHenry. "Still, it’s almost as though this CBS Emmys production was afraid that if it made any daring choices or innovative changes to a cookie-cutter awards show, COVID might sense weakness and leap out of a corner. There were a few structural changes, including switching up the order of listing the nominees and then announcing the presenters, and the decision to prerecord all the nominee names is a great one. (Never again, Adele Dazeem.) Overall, though, the desire to embrace normalcy was so intense that much of the show felt plain boring. In fact, at some points, 'boring' was the high-water mark — see below re: the flies joke — but when something actually exciting seemed to be happening, like (Conan) O’Brien disrupting the Academy president’s tedious 'greatest night for television' speech, very little of it even showed up onscreen. The room reacted, but the camera focused insistently on the less interesting guy up front."
    • The 73rd Primetime Emmys was a tedious mess -- it was one long coffin flip: "The Emmys are always the Fredo Corleone of the Hollywood award-show crime family — they want respect, but they’re lucky if they get a little pity and/or the occasional banana daiquiri," says Rob Sheffield. "They always get overshadowed by their glitzier, glammier, drunker siblings. But even by Emmy standards, the 73rd annual event was a tedious mess. If the entertainment scale has 'Bowen Yang’s shoes' at one end, and 'Dr. Phil comedy sketch' at the other, this long, dark night of the gold went off the charts all the way into 'The Queen’s Gambit director reads a speech twice as long as the show.' The whole show felt like one long coffin flop. This was the first post-pandemic Emmys, a year after Jimmy Kimmel quipped 'Welcome to the Pandemmys' in an empty room. They had a chance to remind everyone what we all missed about live old-school in-the-room award-fests. Instead, it’s like they decided to remind everyone what sucked about them. You know it’s a rough night when it kicks off with Rita Wilson spitting bars on a Biz Markie classic — and that turned out to be one of the highlights. Jason Sudeikis and Jean Smart deserved better. Michaela Coel deserved better. And Bowen Yang’s shoes deserved better."
    • Emmys should get rid of time limits on Emmy acceptance speeches: Referring to Michaela Coel's potent Emmy speech and The Queen’s Gambit director Scott Frank's worst speech ever, Daniel D'Addario says it's time to get rid of time limits on Emmy speeches altogether. "This year’s Emmys had a small-capacity room limiting potential stagecraft, and limited and brief involvement from host Cedric the Entertainer, mainly in taped bits," says D'Addario. "So they ended up defined by speeches. And what became clear is that it’s no longer possible to constrain stars who want to have their say. Through sheer force of will, various talents powered through time limits; one of the few who conceded to the music, actress in a comedy winner Jean Smart acknowledged 'they’re playing music and I have to stop' — which felt unfair, given that others barely conceded to hearing it, and that Smart seemed to have more of substance to say. There was an uncomfortable tension between the show’s evident desire to come in on time and the urgency folks felt about maximizing their time onstage. And that’s hardly good news for a broadcast that — like so many awards shows these days — has seen much of its audience fall away in recent years. The best way to ensure your words are heard widely, after all, is to speak words worth hearing. There are many systemic reasons awards-show ratings are sagging, but a perception that there’s a lot of indulgence and flabbiness happening onstage isn’t helping matters...The folks onstage at the Emmys are professional entertainers, and — though winning is an exceptional and rare achievement — it would make sense, under the circumstances, for there to be a bit more understanding of what plays on TV. But the Emmys could play a bit more fair. The loud, irritating classical music competing with speeches is no fun for anyone. And if, just one year, the nominees were encouraged in advance to put thought and care into what they wanted to say with the understanding that they wouldn’t be fighting against time, there might be a few more speeches with heft, along with the endless Frank-style monologues that will inevitably happen either way."
    • The Emmys ceremony were a slog: Why does the small screen’s biggest night have to be so inconsequential?: "With the exception that is the glory of Debbie Allen and the truths of the cast and creator of Reservation Dogs, no matter how you drape and dress it up, those network time fillers are more of the same old same old. Then, with the exception of whatever Conan O’Brien was drinking, the same old presenters, banter, winner unveiled, cut to winner shocked and coming up to stage amidst hugs and then speech (and all that disrespectful play-off music) is sinfully the same old same old slog. That — despite all the big wins for Netflix’s The Crown, AppleTV+’s Ted Lasso, HBO’s Mare of Easttown, VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, HBO Max’s Hacks and Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit tonight — made tonight just another shade of gray. A sad takeaway when the 73rd Primetime Emmys could have been bedazzling in a year where TV was part confessional booth and part Tardis for so many of us at home against the shifting norms of the pandemic. Which begs the real question here, doesn’t it? In the sophomoric round of the global health crisis and with audiences dropping award shows like 4th-period French, why haven’t the studios, streamers and agencies said enough is enough? How low is too low viewership-wise? How insular is insignificant? How come no one will step in to stop the bleeding? Leaving the Oscars, Grammys and the rest aside and the often predictable and conservative nature of TV Academy voters, why does the small screen’s biggest night have to be so inconsequential? Broadcasting the Emmys for the first time since 2017, it’s not like CBS didn’t had the perfect storm of an opportunity tonight to switch it up – and I’m not talking about streaming the show on Paramount+. Already hampered by the record-low viewership of successive ceremonies and no overrun bounce from the megamarket Dallas Cowboys’ nail-biter 20-17 win over the L.A. Chargers this afternoon, the Emmys’ return to the ViacomCBS-owned network for the first time since 2017 also was up against Sunday Night Football on NBC with the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens fighting it out in a very close game. So with competition like that and no lucky breaks, why not throw out the baby, the bathwater and the whole notion of TV Academy plumbing?"
    • Blame CBS for a disappointing ceremony: "At this point in human history, it is a well-documented fact that most Americans are not interested in watching awards shows," says Kristen Baldwin. "Ratings for the Emmys and the Oscars continue to plummet to new lows every year, and if you're reading this — IS anyone reading this besides my editors? — you likely didn't watch and just want to skim this article for the highlights and lowlights. Yet the awards season tradition continues, and if any broadcast network understands adhering to traditions, it's CBS. The network is nothing if not consistent — when you turn on CBS, you always know what you're gonna get. And that was largely the case with the 73rd Annual Emmy Awards: Ted Lasso and The Crown won big, much of the comedy didn't work, and one entitled dude took it upon himself to ignore the rules and keep talking for as long as he damn well pleased."
    • Emmy voters must've watched a handful of shows last year: "In an awards show designed to celebrate the best the broad and brilliant spectrum of television has to offer, most of the prizes went to two shows," says Stuart Heritage. Does this mean The Crown and Ted Lasso were better than everything else? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. So what happened? Last year was the scariest in living memory, ruled by uncertainty and dread. And living with that uncertainty and dread meant everyone lost their stomach when it came to watching truly good, challenging television. Even me. I write about television for a living and I didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with anything that pressed too many of my buttons, so I mainly watched old sitcoms. My theory is that exactly the same thing happened to the Emmy voters. They spent last year watching Friends and soothing ASMR cooking videos on YouTube, so, when it came time to pick winners, they went for the safest options: a wildly expensive soap opera and Mr Twinkly Goes to Richmond."
    • John Oliver's Last Week Tonight Emmy dominance has become boring: "When it comes to who-will-win anticipation, television's Emmys have a major disadvantage compared to other entertainment awards shows," says Bill Keveney. "Whereas the Oscars, Tonys and Grammys feature a mostly brand new list of nominees each year, the Emmys often are burdened by the usual suspects of long-running programs that show up every year. Once an excellent program – along with its marquee actors or hosts – gets the first statuette, it can become an perennial occurrence, eliminating the chance for fresh faces to shine in the awards spotlight. Sometimes, the repeat wins are deserved. But sometimes it seems like Television Academy voters go on autopilot. Consider the last couple of seasons of Game of Thrones. Even with the best shows, too many wins can be too much. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is an all-time great, but its 10 consecutive wins for best comedy, music or variety series got really tired, to take nothing away from the program itself. Oliver's dominance is so obvious it became a punchline Sunday during Stephen Colbert's acceptance speech for best variety special Emmy for his 2020 election show...Curbing perennial winners would enliven the competition. The TV academy would be wise to impose what Candice Bergen did voluntarily when she declined further nominations for her portrayal of Murphy Brown after five wins and seven nominations from 1989 to 1995. Cap the number of wins for a particular series or actor at five – consecutive, or even better, total."
    • The British were the night's big winners: "Ted Lasso follows a fictional English Premier League club in London; The Crown is about the monarchy; Emmy winners John Oliver, Kate Winslet, and Michaela Coel also represent the U.K. contingent; and a limited series about professional chess has so much British energy that it’s legitimately shocking it isn’t actually British," says Miles Surrey. "(Though its lead actress, Anya Taylor-Joy, does have dual citizenship and thus the U.K. can claim her.) All told, the 73rd Emmy Awards were utterly dominated by the folks from across the pond, as evidenced by the festivities having to cut to a Crown viewing party in London for every single drama series win. They might as well have rebranded the 2021 Emmys as the Other BAFTAs. Cheers."
    • Netflix has earned Emmys bragging rights for the first time in its history: Netflix's 44 wins tied the Emmy record for biggest Emmy haul set by CBS back in 1974. The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit also tied as the programs with the most wins (11), followed by Saturday Night Live's eight. Most importantly of all, Netflix finally beat out HBO, which placed a distant second with 19 awards (combined with HBO Max). "This was the first time that Netflix has sat alone atop the winners’ list, as the former DVD-by-mail outlet has only thus far managed to end the TV Academy’s biggest night in a tie with HBO in 2018 (with 23 apiece)," says The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg. Despite Netflix’s record nominations haul last year, HBO secured the bragging rights again (30 wins vs. 21)."
    • The 73rd Primetime Emmys marked the changing of the guard from the cable era to the streaming era: "In 2017, Hulu became the first streaming service to claim one of the big three series Emmys — drama, comedy or limited/anthology — when The Handmaid’s Tale was named best drama," says The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg. "Amazon carried forward the torch with its best comedy wins for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag in 2018 and 2019, respectively. And on Sunday night, both Apple TV+, which launched less than two years ago, and Netflix, the most prominent streamer, joined the club as Apple’s Ted Lasso won best comedy and Netflix’s The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit won best drama and best limited/anthology series, respectively — an unprecedented clean sweep of the big three series awards for over-the-top media services. Netflix, with a stunning 44 victories between the Primetime and Creative Arts ceremonies, finished alone in first place for most Emmy wins of the year for the first time ever (in 2018 it tied HBO, which has otherwise dominated the 21st century), and also tied the record — held solely by CBS for the last 47 years — for most Emmy wins in a single year. Just as notably, in every single performance, directing or writing category in which a Netflix show did not win on Sunday, the winner hailed from a fellow streamer — Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso and HBO Max’s Hacks split the comedy awards — or from HBO, which was buoyed by Mare of Easttown, Last Week Tonight and I May Destroy You. Disney+, for its part, won best variety special (pre-recorded) with Hamilton. Think about that. CBS, as part of the traditional CBS/NBC/ABC/Fox rotation, had the privilege of broadcasting an Emmys telecast during which the Big Four broadcast networks collectively won just one award (best variety sketch series for NBC’s Saturday Night Live) and its own greatest reason to cheer were the sole wins for premium cable and basic cable, which went to networks that happen to share its parent company, Viacom: Showtime, which snagged best variety special live for Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020, and VH1, which claimed best competition series for RuPaul’s Drag Race."
    • "Just a Friend opening was one of the worst Emmy moments: "Well, if you wanted to see Rita Wilson rap live, you probably loved it?" says Gregory Ellwood. "But, that number was closer to a bad wedding reception moment than an exciting opening number for an Emmys telecast. Not sure if CBS and the Television Academy were trying to save money on the production budget, but couldn’t they have done a bit more? Even the 2021 Spirit Awards had more production value in its virtual opener this year."
    • Primetime Emmys' biggest snubs include Michael K. Williams, Emma Corrin, Anya Taylor-Joy and Paul Bettany
    • The "All Flies Matter" sketch was terrible: "There’s a difference between not being funny, and being actively annoying"
    • Schitt's Creek cast's broken teleprompter gag was one of the night's best moments
    • Here's what was bleeped from Ted Lasso star Brett Goldstein's speech
    • The Handmaid's Tale makes history as Emmys' biggest loser: Its 0 wins in 21 Emmy nominations broke Mad Men's record of losing all 17 nominations in 2012
    • Broadcast TV continued its decline with NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, The CW and PBS combining for 13 total wins -- including eight for SNL -- down from 18 last year
    • Bo Burnham fans say he was robbed after his Inside pandemic special lost to a Hamilton performance filmed in 2016
    • How did Ted Lasso win best comedy series but lose best comedy directing and writing to Hacks?
    • Gillian Anderson was asked backstage if she spoke to Margaret Thatcher, who died in 2013, about The Crown role
    • RuPaul breaks a tie to become the most-awarded Black artist in Emmy history

    TOPICS: 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, HBO, HBO Max, Netflix, Bo Burnham: Inside, The Crown, Hacks, The Handmaid's Tale, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Mare of Easttown, The Queen's Gambit, Saturday Night Live, Ted Lasso, Biz Markie, Brett Goldstein, Cedric the Entertainer, Gillian Anderson, Jason Sudeikis, John Oliver, Michaela Coel, Michael K. Williams, RuPaul Charles, Scott Frank, Award Shows




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