As Emmy revelers in Hollywood nursed their hangovers Monday morning, NBC officials took stock of an awards show that narrowly avoided a historic ratings embarrassment and apologized -- kind of -- for a plane-crash skit's "unfortunate" timing.
An average of 16 million total viewers tuned in to the three-hour ceremony hosted by "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien, according to early figures from Nielsen Media Research. That made the show the second least-watched Emmy telecast since 1992, and represented a 14% decline from last year's show on CBS, when it was hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.
But NBC steered clear of the dubious mark set by ABC in 2004, when a record-low 13.8 million viewers showed up. Given that this year's event took place a month earlier than normal, when many people are finishing up summer vacations and thus not watching TV, avoiding the Nielsen booby prize can itself be considered an achievement. The Emmys also faced tougher-than-usual competition from ABC's showing of the movie hit "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," which rounded up an average of 10.2 million total viewers from 7 to 10 p.m.
As for the Emmys, NBC estimated that at least 35 million viewers watched some portion of the broadcast. O'Brien's deadpan performance drew mostly praise from critics, with the glaring exception of an opening that was filmed in advance of the ceremony and parodied the infamous plane crash from ABC's hit "Lost."
The producers retained the skit despite the crash of a commuter jet in Kentucky on Sunday morning that killed 49 people.
In response, NBC officials offered a carefully worded statement Monday: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the many families who lost loved ones in the plane crash in Kentucky on Sunday, and to the entire community that has suffered this terrible loss. In no way would we ever want to make light of this terrible tragedy," the statement said.
"The filmed opening during the Emmy telecast was meant to spoof some of television's most well-known scenes. The timing was unfortunate, and we regret any unintentional pain it may have caused." The network didn't explain why the crash material couldn't have been edited out, and some critics didn't buy the explanation.
"Even without Sunday morning's tragedy in Kentucky, the news has for two weeks been filled with deeply disturbing stories about terrorism in the skies and the ever-escalating dangers facing airline passengers around the world," wrote TV columnist Ed Martin at Mediavillage.com. "It is shocking that the good folks at NBC Universal are so thoroughly out of touch with what people are talking about and what they are watching."
Channel Island is a blog about the television industry. For the latest posting, go to latimes.com/channelisland. Contact reporter Scott Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org