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Al Gore Is Leading Man in This Year's EMA Ceremony : Media: Vice president finds that the celebrities at the event honoring environmental awareness are his crowd.

September 29, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At last year's Environmental Media Awards ceremony, organizers handed out hundreds of hardback copies of then-Sen. Al Gore's hit book "Earth in the Balance."

This year, they handed out Vice President Al Gore.

Following Gore's sober keynote address to the star-studded crowd at Fox Studios Monday night, host Paula Poundstone playfully suggested that Gore might want to stick around and "work the crowd." But the crowd worked him. While Secret Service agents half-heartedly murmured, "This way, sir" in vain, celebrities like Candice Bergen jostled through surrounding well-wishers to shake Gore's hand, while Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Ed Begley Jr.--no fools they--just patiently staked out his exit path.

"It's interesting to see such a snobbish crowd standing around and waiting to meet somebody," said Poundstone, standing a few yards away from the crush, where she could enjoy the irony of Dan Quayle's "media elite" acting more like autograph hounds in the service of congratulating Quayle's hard-fought successor.

For this night, at least, the White House's unofficial embargo on palm-to-palm contact in public view with Hollywood was off. If there was any night to suspend it, this was it, since environmental activists, perhaps more than any other group, have reason to celebrate Gore as their very own point man in Washington at long last.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 1, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 19 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Winning program--The Environmental Media Awards selected PBS' "Futures 2" as the winner for live-action children's programming. The wrong program was listed in Wednesday's Calendar.

"I can say without exaggeration that no group has had a larger impact on the thinking that Americans bring to the environment," Gore told the 800-plus movers and shakers in attendance at the tony dinner ceremony, where trophies were handed out to entertainment programs that raise environmental consciousness.

But, he added, "the backlash against those who raise the alarms is gaining strength. . . . How do we fight this backlash? You're fighting it more successfully than anyone. . . . I want you to know that in the Clinton White House, we are making changes that are necessary. We will do our part. We will work along with you."

Gore's closing pep talk was probably closer in tone to, say, his 1988 Democratic Convention speech than to his recent comedic recitation of his own Top 10 list on "Late Show With David Letterman."

Old-style somber as he was on Tuesday, though, Gore does retain the aura of a politico who's successfully reinvented himself, from the ultimate stuffed shirt into someone who can get laughs saying the word Buttafucco on national television.

Ecological activists are in the midst of a similar transformation. A goal is to ditch the image of "doomsday fanatics" (as EMA president Andy Goodman described the stereotype in an introductory speech) laden with leftist earnestness cooties, and be seen as common folks capable of maintaining a sense of humor, even irreverence, while raising concern among the populace. If environmentalist-basher Rush Limbaugh can be funny, the reasoning goes, so can they.

To that end, the Environmental Media Assn.'s third annual ceremony was largely a night of comedy. Last year's musical performer, for instance, was tragedian Jackson Browne; this year it was hilarious Spinal Tap spinoff the Folksmen, though the trio's folky satire went over many heads in the distractedly schmoozing crowd.

At times the EMAs felt like the Emmys redux--due to the fact that here, as there, the wittiest moments were provided by Poundstone and Paul Reiser.

Reiser pointed out that on his series, "Mad About You," "Last week we recycled three old 'Dick Van Dyke' scripts" and made paper-saving suggestions: "No more rewriting. When you get a script, just live with it. So you lose a few jokes, but you save a tree, and you can't have a picnic under a show."

After the ceremony, stars were reservedly supportive of how Gore had gone over. "It was his crowd," Poundstone said. "I don't understand how you could go wrong, unless you slipped and said, 'I hate owls,' or something."

Reiser, waiting with other stars in the humblingly long valet pickup line, was slightly disappointed: "What surprised me was that Al Gore didn't do any of his biggest hits, like 'It's My Party.' " Reiser also noted that the producers problematically had Gore give his serious address right after an introductory clip of his Letterman appearance. "They opened with the Top 10 list, and it's hard to follow that. That's what I told him--'Al, always follow a singer.' "

EMA, which encourages the incorporation of environmental themes in television, film and music, gave its annual awards to:

"The Distinguished Gentleman," feature film; "Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster," movie of the week; "Earth and the American Dream," TV special; "Northern Exposure," TV episodic drama; "Dinosaurs," TV episodic comedy; "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," children's animated programming; "Beakman's World," children's live-action programming; "Network Earth," newsmagazine.

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