Seems like there's been precious little pre-show buzz for the kudofest this year. Is it because it looks like a cakewalk to the top of Mount Emmy this year for the dearly departed "The Sopranos"? Is it because ratings for the show have ebbed precipitously in the past decade? Who knows. Really, the most pre-Emmy buzz I've heard this week is about the bash that NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman is throwing late tonight (Friday) with the help of L.A.'s premier nightclub dude Brent Bolthouse (who's also handling DirecTV's inaugural Emmy night party) at a rented mansion in the Hollywood Hills. The guest list and the security plans are said to be super-tight.
I've always had kind of a love-dread thing with the Emmys. Love because I do love the smallscreen and its players and it's fun to see your colleagues all dressed up in their finery. (As my old boss at UPI used to say: It's prom night for the media.) Dread because of course a big awards show means a looooong work night for showbiz reporters, especially those of us who file live on deadline and have to get everybody's name and award category right, etc., or there'll be snickers the next day.
But in general, maybe my Emmy ennui stems from the fact that I felt a crime was committed the first time I covered them ('94), when "NYPD Blue" lost the top drama series prize in its first season to CBS' "Picket Fences" (no offense to that show; I've always been fond of David E. Kelley and Tom Skerritt). Or maybe it's because the first major awards show I covered was the Oscars (same year), and it was the year Tom Hanks won for "Philadelphia" and Steven Spielberg won for "Schindler's List," thus, it would be hard for any other award show to match that level of emotion and excitement. (Plus, that was also the year Paul Newman received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and when I found myself within 50 feet of those twinkly blue eyes in the back stage room, I knew I'd made a sound career choice.)
The Emmy ceremony that stands out to me is the 2000 awards (perhaps it's because I was six months pregnant at the time), when "The West Wing" was the underdog show that could after its first season with a record-setting nine trophies, including a big upset in the drama category against stiff competish from HBO's "The Sopranos." "West Wing's" Thomas Schlamme set an emotional tone early on in the night when he won a directing trophy for his work on the show and observed: "I'm the son of two immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, and to work on a show that represents so much hope and optimism makes me very proud."
NBC's "Will & Grace" achieved a breakthrough of sorts that year in claiming the top comedy prize for a show with a gay lead character. "This award really indicates a whole new meaning to the phrase 'acceptance speech,' " said co-creator Max Mutchnick during his turn at the mike.
But it was Michael J. Fox who brought down the house that night in winning the lead comedy actor statue for ABC's "Spin City." It was only a few months after he'd made his classy exit from the show because of his battle with Parkinson's disease. Fox (pictured right) proved himself to be a master of the medium when he paused a moment on stage after going through a few thank-yous to producers, writers and his family, and then looked right into the camera: "I just want to say to you people at home, thanks. It has been a great ride, and you know, stay tuned." (I won't say there wasn't a dry eye in the press room after that, but it was awfully quiet for a few seconds and, for sure, I was misty.)
So here's hoping for a few upset wins for deserving nominees on Sunday (I'm particularly rooting for "The Office's" Rainn Wilson for supporting comedy actor and "My Name Is Earl's" Jaime Pressly for supporting comedy actress), and a few funny, or sweet, or ribald, or funny-sweet-ribald moments at the mike to give us some color. And please, let all the winners come back stage with more scintillating thoughts in mind than being merely "thrilled."
For me, the Emmy countdown will begin in earnest on Saturday night with NBC Universal's pre-Emmy bash at Spago, which has become a nice tradition during the past few years. And just to keep everything in life and work and awards season in perspective, I'm going to start my day on Sunday with a little spiritual refreshment at my church. As the skedding gods would have it, it's my turn in the volunteer rotation to teach the Religious Exploration (aka Sunday school) class for the kindergarten-1st graders.
When I got the email with the R.E. teaching sked a few weeks ago, my first instinct was to resked with another teacher because after all, it's the Emmys. But after I few minutes I reconsidered. I'll be done by 1 p.m. at the latest, and it's not like I'm gonna spend three hours in hair and makeup. In fact, I can think of no better way to bring the right perspective on all this awards-competish and who's in/who's out business than starting the day wrangling a bunch of 5- to 7-year-olds in an effort to get across to them a lesson or two about celebrating the spark of divinity that resides in us all.