“I have to be very honest with you,” said Leary, who was being honored for “Rescue Me” with fellow exec producer Peter Tolan. “I don't ever win awards. We're 0 for 8 at Emmys (except) for Michael J. Fox, and that doesn't really count.
“I’ve won two awards. About six months after I won my Cable Ace award … they canceled the Cable Aces. I won a Blockbuster Award. About three months after that, they abolished the Blockbuster Award. Abolished. So I'd like to say thank you, and I'm really sorry – you will not be holding these awards again.”
Despite Leary’s caution, the TV Academy Honors seem safe for years to come, certainly after this year’s sprightly edition at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Hosted by Dana Delany, the TV Academy Honors – with the overriding theme of saluting “television with a conscience” – honored six projects in addition to “Rescue Me”: the syndicated “Dr. Oz,” documentaries “Hot Coffee” of HBO and “Women, War and Peace” on PBS, Lifetime movie “Five,” and dramas “Harry’s Law” of NBC and “Men of a Certain Age” of TNT.
Delany determined that the common thread of the honorees was “raising questions,” a concept echoed most explicitly in the docs, such as “Hot Coffee,” which challenged the assumption that tort cases are nuisance suits.
“This is my first film,” Hot Coffee director Susan Saladoff said. “I did not set out to become a filmmaker. I just practiced law for 25 years, and I had something to say.
“The No. 1 thing I hear about this is, ‘It's eye opening. I vote, I read the newspaper, but I didn't know that.’ “
Similarly, exec producer Abigail Disney of “Women, War and Peace” – after joking that she was having a “’Romy and Michele’ moment because the honors were taking place at the site of her senior prom – emphasized how women are caught up in the chaos of war, only to be forgotten when the conflicts end.
“It was a bit of a radical idea because it was pushing back on everything we thought we knew about war,” Disney said.
Disney also cited PBS for being the rare viable venue for the documentary.
“PBS is the conscience of the conscience of television, and we need to support that system,” Disney said. “There is a lot of the content that would never make it on the air anywhere else. ... Fight for it.”
Bill D’Elia, saluted with David E. Kelley for a “Harry’s Law” seg that highlighted the dangers of head injuries in football, made a wry play on the theme of the event.
“When I was a child, I heard (FCC chairman) Newton Minow say, ‘Television is a vast wasteland,’ and I thought, ‘That sounds pretty cool. I’d like to go there,” D’Elia said. “And look where I wind up – television with a conscience.”
Tolan and Leary were next, unsurprisingly bringing much comedy to the proceedings.
“Had we known we were making a socially significant show, we probably would have cut back on the dick jokes,” Tolan said.
“If there is a genius behind this show, you're looking at him. Other than talking about my own work, I don't throw around the world ‘genius’ a lot.”
Wrapping up the night was the salute to since-canceled “Men of a Certain Age,” for which Brad Garrett introduced his former “Everybody Loves Raymond” colleages and “Men” exec producers Mike Royce and Ray Romano.
“After (’Til Death’),” explained Garrett after taking the podium, “the Academy wouldn't let me in unless I lied about my identity.”
The “Men” episode honored used colonoscopies as a way to explore mid-life issues, with Royce and Romano noting it was inspired by a Martin Short talkshow interview that described Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Short going on a trip to do theirs together. The subject provided plenty of laughs to cap the night.
"We had many more medical issues we could write about,” Romano said. “I had an irritable bowel cliffhanger."
Lightheartedly lamenting the demise of “Men” after two seasons, Romano thanked the TV Academy and then asked, “Could you start your own network?”
After tonight’s events, no doubt many would second that emotion.