By Paula Hendrickson
The biggest shock with this year’s Emmy Awards wasn’t who won, although there were a few surprises. The real shocker was that the broadcast was actually entertaining!
The bulk of the credit goes to host Neil Patrick Harris. He’s smart, funny, and genuinely likable. His opening musical number was a highlight, but my favorite part was when Harris, as Dr. Horrible, commandeered the telecast while the accountants were supposedly explaining the vote counting process. (For the uninitiated, Harris starred in the online phenomenon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, created by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse mastermind Joss Whedon.) It was great seeing Nathan Fillion (Castle) and Felicia Day (Buffy, soon to appear on Dollhouse) reprising their roles from Dr. Horrible alongside Harris.
Even Survivor’s Jeff Probst, one of last year’s Emmy co-hosts (remember that debacle?), noted Harris’ success when Probst accepted his Emmy for reality show host.
Another great addition to the show was John Hodgeman as the “color commentator,” offering humorous, though maybe not entirely accurate, information as the winners made their way to the stage. If you don’t know Hodgeman from his frequent appearances on The Daily Show, you probably know him as “PC” from the long-running Mac commercials.
Introducing presenters by listing their more obscure credits was sheer genius. Who knew imdb.com would be such a good source for award show writers?
I even liked how the control room was visible onstage. Somehow, that seems appropriate for an awards show celebrating everything that goes into producing television.
As for the awards themselves, last year’s outstanding series, Mad Men and 30 Rock, came out on top again, as expected. But only half of the eight main acting awards went to last year’s winner—Glenn Close (Damages), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael Emerson (Lost) Alec Baldwin (30 Rock). Many expected Tina Fey to win the award for lead actress in a comedy, but first-time nominee Toni Collette (United States of Tara) won. Don’t feel bad for Fey, she won a guest actress Emmy for her SNL parody of Sarah Palin, along with the 30 Rock honors.
Some felt Cherry Jones (24) was a surprise winner in the Dramatic Supporting Actress category, but that category had no clear front-runner; all actresses had a good shot of winning. The biggest surprises of the night were definitely in the supporting comedy categories. Not to belittle either performer, but most viewers were probably blindsided by Kristin Chenoweth and Jon Cryer’s wins.
I loved Pushing Daisies and Chenoweth’s performance as Olive Snook, yet I didn’t think she would win. Why? The show was canceled months ago, and she had stiff competition, including SNL’s Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler. Wiig and Poehler may have split the vote, opening the category up to the other nominees.
The safe money was on Emmy host Harris (“Barney” on How I Met Your Mother) to win Supporting Actor in a comedy, but Two and a Half Men’s Cryer won, after several nominations. Yet another reason to love the broadcast: Harris asking Cryer, mid-press conference, to show the envelope to confirm Cryer had, in fact, won.
A crucial reason this telecast was so good is because it struck the right balance of honoring accomplishments without being stuffy. The combination of Harris’ seemingly effortless emcee skills, the presenters’ lackluster credits, and Hodgeman’s commentary resulted in a surprisingly entertaining kudocast. I hope they’ve already signed Harris to host again next year.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the September 23-29, 2009 issue