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3 YEARS

The 2011 Emmys: Failure Analysis

A bad night with dubious decisions and a rally at the end -- which didn't save it.

Mad Men' - Outstanding Drama Series
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Since the list of what last night’s Emmy telecast got right is relatively short, let’s get to it right away:

  1. Host Jane Lynch hung in there after a disastrous start and, by about the middle of the show, rebounded nicely. Whether it was an issue of feeling more comfortable, riffing on her own or finally getting the writing that befits her comedic talents, it was a welcome rally. Perhaps Lynch’s best joke was this, late in the telecast: “You know, a lot of people want to know why I’m a lesbian. Ladies and gentleman, the cast of ‘Entourage.’”
  2.  There was an impressive lack of bloat in the middle portion of the awards – a dreaded and predictable affliction that had bogged down so many previous Emmy nights and continues to plague the Oscar telecast.
  3. When the taped bits worked, they killed. In particular, The Office-inspired montage. That was clever. Granted, they didn’t work all that often (the New Jersey bit), but still.
  4. The show ended on time.
  5. Some of the winners deserved it and the overall unpredictability lent a kind of crazy excitement to the night. The 2011 Emmys will go down as the ultimate “bracket buster” for those picking winners in an office pool.

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And now for the failure analysis.

  1. The opening taped bit was essentially a show killer – a concept so lame and poorly executed that it was hard to recover from. Everybody in television lives in the same building? Leonard Nimoy as Mr. President of Television or whatever the hell he was supposed to be? Really? Ill-advised, long, pointless and unfunny.
  2. Lynch’s early tone seemed way off. Part Sue Sylvester, part past movie roles she’s had, it was kind of like she was a tour guide for viewers who tried to incorporate ironic sass and subtle humor – none of which translated through the screen. (She – or someone for her – was also tweeting out the annoying product placements such as Verizon, her jewelry and her commercial for Healthy Choice – tacky.) Lynch wasn’t afraid to be caustic. When she pointed out Betty White, Lynch said “She’s the reason we start the show at 5 p.m.,” which was funny and was probably pre-approved by White or Lynch knew White was cool enough to absorb the joke. Less effective was Lynch’s snide comment about Ricky Gervais not getting enough hugs when he was young and taking it out on Hollywood. For starters, you don’t bash someone who has agreed to do a taped bit for your show and, more important, you don’t mock a former host after you’ve just delivered one of the most craptastic opening segments in the last 10 years of the Emmy telecast.
  3. Whoever let the subtle sound of a phone ringing or a battery dying invade the telecast all night should probably be given something else to do next year. And we’ll assume that this particular Emmy telecast won’t be nominated for a directing Emmy next year. Yes?
  4. In previous years, having John Hodgman be the announcer providing funny banter or faux history as the winners came up was excellent. Replacing him this year with someone who almost single-handedly made the show unwatchable was not excellent. It was annoying, distracting and never once – not ever – funny.
  5. Here’s an idea: Pay the writers from late night talk shows to write the jokes. Maybe someone from The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, or Conan – whatever. Because there’s a trend with the Emmys and the Oscars – the material is weak. Particularly on this Emmy night, the jokes were asinine and embarrassing for the presenters.
  6. The Emmys are a night meant to celebrate the greatest achievements on television. Please find someone capable of making that more entertaining, less boring and disjointed. This is your night, people. Don’t show the world your bad side.
  7. The Emmytones. You’re kidding, right? Were their loved ones being held hostage? It’s the only reason I can come up with for why they agreed to do that. (The only time it worked was when LL Cool J went in to hijack it.)
  8. Did it ever occur to anyone that The Lonely Island (with Michael Bolton) was a joke a lot of people didn’t get? Perhaps a clip inserted somewhere prior to their appearance so that people who don’t watch Saturday Night Live could be in on the joke? Because the bit itself was funny, perhaps even a highlight. But a lot of viewers had no idea what was happening or what it meant.
  9. Whose idea was it to have the Charlie’s Angels actresses – did anyone pre-screen that pilot at all? – introduce the outstanding lead actor category? Because unless you were going for irony, this was a terrible idea.
  10.  The Entourage cast introducing the category that Maggie Smith won? Let me guess, the idea for this came from the same person who had the idea in No. 9?
  11. Next year, please don’t turn the In Memoriam segment into a music video. I don’t care that they were tenors, it was a bad look. Also, as I noted in the THR live blog of the event, I must have missed the inclusion of that very Emmy telecast in the In Memoriam section.
  12. Have I mentioned that it might be key to get better writers for the show?
  13. While bitching about who won and who didn’t solves nothing, sometimes it’s good to vent. If Mad Men was best drama – a four-peat! – and it surely was, then how could it not be rewarded for writing and acting? Come on. It’s the sum of its parts. Melissa McCarthy for best actress in a comedy? Did you confuse this with Bridesmaids? And have you seen her TV show? Jim Parsons as best actor in a comedy? You do know this was supposed to be Steve Carell’s year, right? If you wanted an upset, you should have chose Louis CK.  It’s hard to quibble with Kyle Chandler’s excellent work, but that was Jon Hamm’s trophy. Pretty much everybody knew that. Julianna Margulies is a fine actress, but Elisabeth Moss was robbed (again) and let’s just add the exclamation point here that given the nomination oversights prior to this victory, you’ve found your most screwed up category in need of fixing. Outstanding actor in a miniseries or movie? Wow. Barry Pepper didn’t even show up. Maybe he thought you’d give it to Idris Elba, William Hurt or Edgar Ramirez (like everybody else). Writing for a drama? We all love Friday Night Lights. But don’t cover the fact that you’re five seasons too late to that party by stealing the award from Mad Men, the rightful winner.

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Fine, enough ranting. But if you’re responsible for putting on the Emmy Awards, here’s two words you should seriously take to heart: be better.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com