Sunday night's 60th Emmy awards ceremony will go down in history as the one where the cast and audience mutinied right there on camera in front of the whole world, or at least the teeny-tiny portion that was still watching. Wretched writing, self-indulgent hosts and the odd absence of any winners who were drunk, weird or throwing personal temper tantrums combined to make this the most painfully dull ceremony since the Emmy telecast began.
The ceremony went into the tank literally in the first seconds, when Oprah Winfrey launched a long, tedious and irrelevant monologues -- and then, unbelievably got worse. The five emcees -- Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and Ryan Seacrest, the nominees for best reality-show host -- followed Winfrey with an interminable skit about how they had no opening gag. This was no set-up; they really didn't, and not until Saturday Night Live divettes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler came out to present the best supporting comic actor award, a full eight minutes into the show, was there a line worth even cracking a smile over.
The five hosts continued their vamping throughout the evening, throwing the show hopelessly behind schedule. Some presenters complained that their jokes had been cut to speed the show up; others complained that they had to do their jokes. When producers flashed the teleprompter to warn Don Rickles, ad-libbing some insults as he presented the best reality show award, signaling him to return to the script, he sneered: "Yeah, 'cause it's a hot show." He dutifully recited a few of his lines, which bombed, and then told the audience: "Hey, folks, this crap go me no place."
Rickles wasn't the only presenter urged to step up the pace; an hour and a half into the show, practically all banter and skits were jettisoned in a frantic effort to make up time. The winners were rushed, too -- a dangerous move when so many of them are veterans of standup comedy, with years of experience hacking up hecklers. "What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes?" retorted Jeremy Pivens, picking up a support comic actor award for Entourage, when he was signaled to speed it up. "What would happen? Oh, that was the opening." Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner(that's him on the right), accepting his Emmy for writing, was so rattled by the warnings that he forgot the name of one of his own children, referring to her as just "the other one."
By the end of the night, when comedian Jimmy Kimmel asked the audience for a round of applause for the hosts, he was reduced to pleading, "Haven't they been sufficient, everybody?" Judging from the tepid response, the answer was no.
The ceremony will doubtless be remembered as one of the most abysmal in history, but it may eventually be recognized for breaking other, less reprehensible, ground. For the first time ever, the Emmys for best drama and best dramatic actor went to winners from the world of basic cable. Mad Men, AMC's drama about Madison Avenue advertising executives about to be washed away by the cultural tidal wave of the 1960s, was named best drama. And Bryan Cranston, the star of another AMC drama -- Breaking Bad, about a cancer-stricken high-school chemistry teacher who sets up a crystal meth factory to pay his medical bills -- got the acting award.
I imagine much of the TV audience was scratching its heads in bewilderment at the award to Cranston; Breaking Bad gets killed in the ratings by everything down to audience bathroom breaks. Maybe not for long. Cable is steadily eclipsing the broadcast networks as America's preferred way to watch television. The Hollywood writers' strike last fall, deliberately timed to abort the broadcast nets' new season, only sped up the process. About the only place where the broadcast nets are gaining ground on cable these days is in the race to see who can shoot themselves in the foot more bloodily. In that, at least, Sunday night's Emmy telecast was a singular success.