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THE EMMYS | TELEVISION REVIEW

Speeches pass the test of time

Even strict limits can't prevent the winners' charm from coming through.

September 20, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The Emmy telecast kept the speeches short Sunday night -- too short.

With too many comedy bits shunting aside some surprisingly genuine speeches, this year's Emmys ended, almost pathetically, with the sight of James Gandolfini, star of HBO's "The Sopranos," not allowed to read from a little sheet of paper, saying, "wait-wait-wait-wait-wait" as the broadcast faded away.

"The Sopranos" had won outstanding dramatic series for the first time, but by then the Emmys were three minutes over time, and series creator David Chase had already spoken.

On the one hand, it feels wrong to complain about celebrities getting the bum's rush on awards shows. It's normally a solid, almost unimpeachable practice, particularly when it comes to Al Pacino, who has won many awards in his life and then, each time, has said things I simply can't follow.

Sunday night, there was also "Sex and the City's" Sarah Jessica Parker giving what could now become her famous "passersby speech" ("Oh my God, no, I, wait, listen, listen," Parker said, when the music began to play her off. But she forged ahead and thanked her agent, her publicist, her lawyer, her manager, and, yes, "passersby who always wanted the best for me").

"I want to say everything that Sarah Jessica Parker said, especially to the passersby," "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer said when he arrived onstage a short time later to accept the award for outstanding actor in a comedy series.

As Grammer showed, the rule among the speech-givers was low-key charm (and even high-key charm, in the case of Elaine Stritch). In fact, the Emmys were invaded by winners who actually enlivened the broadcast far more than the segments designed to enliven the broadcast. The actors who went onstage to accept a statuette seemed like real human beings; Michael Imperioli's voice was noticeably shaking as he accepted the award for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his work on "The Sopranos."

The steady stream of classy speakers also included Cynthia Nixon, Meryl Streep, David Hyde Pierce, and "Angels in America" playwright Tony Kushner, who thanked "my wonderful husband Mark. Someday soon we can get a legal marriage license, and you can make an honest homosexual out of me."

Stritch's free-spirited acceptance speech ("Look at the company I'm in, just look at, I mean, and I'm so glad none of them won. I won....") instantly made her everybody's darling (and affectionate running joke) for the evening.

Lacking Stritch's force of personality, some winners defied the quick hook impressively.

"Please wrap up immediately -- really?" "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart said, reading aloud the TelePrompTer's warning message not 10 seconds into his acceptance speech for variety music or comedy series.

"I'd like to sing this now, if I may," said Mitchell Hurwitz, executive producer of the Fox sitcom "Arrested Development," as he continued talking after the "please wrap up immediately" music started.

Jeffrey Wright, outstanding actor in a miniseries for HBO's "Angels in America," steadfastly ignored his music cues. "When I originally started this journey with this piece, AIDS affected mainly gay men," Wright said.

Then the music started. You could see Wright harden his expression, but what followed was not the grandiose gesture of a Sean Penn or Susan Sarandon. "Now the disease affects African Americans in extraordinary numbers," he continued, "sub-Saharan Africa is being devastated by this disease." The award, he hoped, would inspire other actors "to tell those stories and keep those realities and struggles alive in the public dialogue."

Amid honoring a project like "Angels in America," the TV industry had to make the other end of the spectrum, "unscripted" reality series, a part of the festivities.

The jokes were good, but you could also feel a certain fear and bite to them. Shandling's opening sketch had him getting grotesque facial plastic surgery, a la Fox's gross-out reality show "The Swan." And, perhaps most ominously, the award for outstanding reality series was given by two innocents "flown in from out of town," as Shandling said, then blindfolded, and brought onstage to present the honor.

Stunned, Amy Scholsohn and Bruce Milam Jr. suddenly found themselves staring into a sea of celebrity faces on live television.

When Shandling pointed out Jennifer Aniston (and husband Brad Pitt) in the front row, Scholsohn said, "They said I look like you."

Got that, Aniston? Pitt? Got that Sarah Jessica Parker?

You people are all replaceable -- by the passersby.

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