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THE EMMYS | Television Review

No Errors, Lots of Hits

Some worried it was the wrong time, but the Emmys pull off the right tone.

November 05, 2001|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Better late than never? I was one of those who would have voted for never in 2001.

After all, who wanted a bunch of actors and other TV types plucking our heartstrings of patriotism in one of those aren't-we-great-for-supporting-the-troops-and-American-values celebrity sing-alongs that are the sweet dreams of press agents?

Didn't happen.

Even without the show-biz color guard, in fact, Sunday's revised, twice-delayed Emmy telecast on CBS was like an "all clear" after an air raid.

If the entertainment industry patting itself on the back is normalcy, this was normalcy. If humor is normalcy, this telecast, produced by Gary Smith who took over for Don Mischer, was as normal as life gets in the U.S., despite its relocation to the Shubert Theatre. Even if we are counterattacking terrorism and biting our fingernails over anthrax after the events of Sept. 11.

And about the host in black: Was that someone who stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night or was it really Ellen DeGeneres, out of khaki reportedly for the first time in ages?

Nah, it was DeGeneres, in fine form, her wittily written opening monologue featuring one of the funniest lines in the history of Emmydom:

"I'm in a unique position as host because, think about it, what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?"

And here she was later, illustrating again how much her sexual orientation has become a part of her public persona when referring to the cast of HBO's Emmy winner, "Sex and the City:"

"When these four women get together and start talking about men, I have no idea what they are talking about."

Perfect host, perfect tone, perfectly hilarious.

The monologue that preceded hers went to iconic newscaster Walter Cronkite, like DeGeneres a holdover from the telecast as it was originally conceived before September's terrorism that led to the bombing of Afghanistan. After mentioning Edward R. Murrow and saying some nice things about television in a satellite appearance from Toronto, Cronkite threw it to DeGeneres in Los Angeles.

In a way, the juxtaposition was a metaphor for just how blurry have become the lines separating journalism and entertainment. Making that point a little later was someone who himself epitomizes that blurring.

Introduced as "CNN's noted journalist," out came Larry King to introduce a segment about biz folk entertaining the troops during war. When King referred to "one-liners" and "tap dancing," he might have been describing his own show.

Although security was tight at the Shubert, meanwhile, Bubbles and Babbles--otherwise known as Joan Rivers and her daughter, Melissa--somehow slipped through for another of their pre-show red-carpet encounters with celebs on E! Entertainment.

Old Rivers to someone (it doesn't matter who): "I'm so thrilled with you."

Young Rivers to someone (it doesn't matter who): "It is so exciting to see you here tonight."

And on and on it went, one yadda after another.

Old Rivers to "Everybody Loves Raymond" actress Doris Roberts (who later would win an Emmy): "God kissed you somewhere."

Old Rivers to "The West Wing" nominee Richard Schiff: "You always play someone who is not nice and wants to be nice."

Schiff: "Say that again."

He was being nice.

But Fox wasn't, in response to Bryce Zabel, when the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made an appearance to explain why this year's Emmys were on the air instead of on the shelf. Omitting the Emmy financial perks to the Academy and CBS, he declared: "We stood up to fear, we stood up to hate."

A lot Fox cared. Touting the Emmys over Sunday night's Fox telecast of Game 7 of the World Series, DeGeneres had joked that Fox wouldn't "break in and let you know who just won for best supporting actress."

Wrong. Early in the evening, Fox ran a visual "crawl" announcing the Emmy winners during the Arizona Diamondbacks-New York Yankees thriller. The purpose, of course, was to stop viewers from watching the tape-delayed telecast when it aired later that evening in the west. It is a ratings sweeps month, after all.

Yes, back to normalcy.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WINS BY SHOW

"The West Wing" 8

"Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" 5

"Barbra Streisand: Timeless" 4

"The Sopranos" 4

WINS BY NETWORK

HBO: 16

NBC: 16

Fox: 15

ABC: 10

CBS: 8

PBS: 5

UPN: 5

MORE COVERAGE

* Even nominees had to pass through metal detectors to get into the telecast site. F3

* Fancy gowns and flashy jewelry were not on the march down the red carpet. F3

* The complete list of winners. F4

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