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THE 48TH ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS | THE SHOW / A Critic's
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It's All NBC, Cable Guys

Cable's contribution and controversial themes were notable by their absence. At least the TV academy was able to make the show end on time.

September 09, 1996|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

There he was, co-host Jason Alexander of NBC's "Seinfeld," patrolling the audience like a daytime talk-show host, asking questions. . . .

What?

That was 1995? Sorry.

There he was, co-host Paul Reiser of NBC's "Mad About You." . . .

Reiser was Sunday night's main man, wasn't he? It's only that Emmy telecasts are so dramatically flat and unmemorable that they tend to run together. That's especially the case when they're in the mold of Sunday night's pleasant but antiseptic Emmys program on ABC, one so level that it might as well have been on lithium, and one so efficiently run, with its tightly enforced 30-second thank-yous and absence of surprises, that at one point it appeared in peril of having to stretch just to fill its three-hour time slot.

A Times colleague compared Emmycast executive producer Dick Clark to someone with a contract to rebuild post-earthquake freeways in Los Angeles: Perhaps he thought he'd earn a bonus for bringing the show in early.

Reiser did nicely. There were nice clips. There was a nice feature on TV doors. It was nice seeing Milton Berle on stage as a tangible link to U.S. television's toddlerhood (even though the medium is considerably older than the 50 years mentioned Sunday) and seeing another veteran of that era, John Frankenheimer, win a directing Emmy for TNT's "Andersonville." It was nice seeing Helen Mirren finally win an Emmy for her work in "Prime Suspect" on PBS. It was nice hearing those heartfelt eulogies for the departed (but where was one for "Dallas" producer Leonard Katzman, who died last week?). Nice here, nice there, you could go on and on.

But . . . no magic, nothing inspiring or provocative, making this a metaphor for much of TV itself.

How ironic that Richard Frank, president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, would declare that today is television's "golden age" in a show that found no room for cable (where much of today's "golden" programming is found) in the vast catalog of clips that were interwoven throughout the show.

The omission is noteworthy because nine of the Emmys handed out Sunday night went to cable shows or performers in those shows.

It was Frank, moreover, who introduced the President's Award that is supposed to celebrate television that addresses social issues and other ideas instead of empty trivia. Yet the winner, "Blacklist: Hollywood on Trial," appeared on cable's American Movie Classics. And three of four other President's Award nominees also were cable programs.

As were all of the nominated movies and four of five miniseries nominees, even though NBC's "Gulliver's Travels" got the Emmy in that category.

Frank, with some justification, has answered Washington criticism of TV in part by noting the good work on TV. After all, the small screen has been more issue-oriented than the big screen.

When sifting through TV's archive of productions with social relevance, however, the Emmy program came up woefully short, citing only several, one of those being a miniseries, "Roots," from 1977.

In fact, it's not regular over-the-air TV but cable--especially HBO--where viewers now most readily find stories with provocative themes. Television's "new sense of social awareness," as Frank put it, is not on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB or UPN. And the fall season doesn't appear to promise much change.

"God bless television!" exclaimed Emmy-winning John Lithgow Sunday night, quoting his extraterrestrial character from NBC's "3rd Rock From the Sun." Well, it is a comedy.

Meanwhile, there she was, co-host Patricia Richardson of ABC's "Home Improvement." . . . What? That was the 1994 Emmy telecast? Sorry.

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