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8 reasons to watch the Emmy Awards

With Jane Lynch hosting and Mark Burnett producing, this could be a show full of surprises and intrigue. Here are eight reasons to watch it.

September 16, 2011|By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times
  • Jane Lynch, who will host the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards show, and Executive Producer Mark Burnett (standing center), at the red carpet roll-out.
Jane Lynch, who will host the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards show, and Executive… (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

Award-show fatigue is a common ailment these days, but in the case of Sunday's Emmys on Fox, there are enough unknowns to make a tune-in worthwhile. Despite the perennial blizzard of pre-Emmy media coverage, this year's Jane Lynch-hosted, Mark Burnett-produced ceremony still promises plenty of moments of intrigue, interest and surprise.

Here are eight items to consider on awards night:

Guaranteed snub: You want high-wire suspense as an envelope is torn open? Check out the lead dramatic actor category. The only Emmy newcomer is Timothy Olyphant of FX's "Justified." The others are all much-praised veterans who have come up short every time. Michael C. Hall has been nominated four times for "Dexter," Jon Hamm the same number for "Mad Men," and Hugh Laurie has failed to get a Emmy in five previous nods for "House, MD." The category also includes Steve Buscemi, who went home Emmy-less as a supporting actor for "The Sopranos" and now is up for "Boardwalk Empire." No matter who wins, someone will get robbed — again.

Get ready for sexy time? Probably the world's most famous reality producer, Burnett has in recent years made moves to conquer live awards shows; this will be his first Emmys. The secret to his success? Stunting, much of it raunchy. The highlight of Burnett's 2009 MTV Movie Awards was a scripted gag that had Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as the ostentatiously gay trend-seeker Brüno, land with his bare buttocks in Eminem's face. At this year's ceremony, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis grabbed each other's privates (but through their clothes). Nothing that racy is likely at the Emmys — it's a broadcast regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, after all — but remember that Fox's audience is still the youngest in prime time. One executive close to the show promises "surprises," which is either the typical home-team boosterism or Hollywood code for something your mother would truly find repulsive. Tune in to find out which.

Children of "The Sopranos": Want a measure of how much HBO's mob drama has changed TV? Most prognosticators consider this year's best drama category a likely toss-up between "Boardwalk Empire," HBO's tale of Prohibition-era Atlantic City created by Terence Winter, and that returning favorite, AMC's "Mad Men," created by Matt Weiner. Both men honed their craft on "The Sopranos." How many future great dramas are swirling around in the heads of that show's alumni?

Diversity report: Much of the speculation about Lynch's first turn as Emmy host has centered on how much time she'll spend in character as Sue Sylvester, her villainous, Emmy-nominated coach on "Glee." (All Burnett has said is that she will "definitely" sing.) But — hello, GLAAD! — has anyone else noticed that Lynch is not only the second lesbian to host the show (after Ellen DeGeneres), but the Emmys have also had openly gay hosts for two of the last three years (Neil Patrick Harris was emcee in 2009). Whether zeitgeist or coincidence, maybe the TV academy could take this opportunity to ponder its disappointing record on racial diversity: The last solo host who was black was Bryant Gumbel — in 1997. At least George Lopez and the late Bernie Mac showed up in the hosting tag team in 2003.

Money isn't the only green TV cares about: Fox put out a news release about how environmentally friendly this year's Emmys will be, with recycled red carpet, solar panels and low-energy lighting. This marks the first time a company has bragged about a green initiative — in the last three minutes. Still, it may well be the first time a network deliberately used the words "recycled" and "low energy" in connection with an entertainment extravaganza.

Michael Vick versus the Falcons versus the Emmys: Last year, NBC caught some heat for moving the Emmy telecast — traditionally held right before the official start of the fall season — to late August. The reason was that NBC didn't want to lose even one night from its popular Sunday NFL franchise. This year, though, Fox will run right into that football buzz saw on NBC. And what a game! Vick, who pleaded guilty in a dog-fighting case, did time and is now seeking redemption, will quarterback his Philadelphia Eagles for the first time against his old squad, the Atlanta Falcons — in Atlanta. That stinks for Fox, especially since the last time it hosted the Emmys, in 2007, the program's ratings dipped to near-record lows.

Clip job: Pretty much everyone agrees that the Emmys are too long and pass out too many awards. And yet the structure of the show really hasn't changed that much through the years. Why's that? Well, whenever officials suggest streamlining the awards, the talent guilds — whose members don't mind having all their friends, rivals and former lovers see them pick up a prestigious prize on national TV — threaten to start charging real money for the program clips that the Emmys now air for a pittance. And so the Emmys stay largely as they have been.

Death — not necessarily a downer: Burnett provoked some giggles when he told TV critics this summer that the Emmy "in memoriam" segment — a.k.a. the death reel — didn't need to be a "downer." "It can be a celebration of what's been left behind," Burnett said last month. "One thing about being in this business is people can enjoy your work after you're gone. I'm looking at it being more of a raise-up than a bring-down."

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