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Emmys 2012: Review and Analysis

Jimmy Kimmel keeps it brisk, lots of deserving shows won, there were only a few stunningly wrong picks, and painful acceptance speeches were rare.

Claire Danes Damian Lewis with Emmys - H 2012
Getty Images
Claire Danes and Damien Lewis

The parties have ended (one would assume). The Emmy statues are sitting temporarily on coffee tables and bedroom dressers (with maybe one or three to be found in a bed). The debates about what great show lost to another great show have simmered. And Jimmy Kimmel comes out of the whole affair looking like a savior.

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Thus, the postmortem:

Three factors made the 64th annual Primetime Emmy Awards work better than it has in years. Most important, many of the major categories were stocked with all-around great series or actors, making it harder to see the about snubs and easier to see what an amazing time it is in the television industry right now, with a plethora of talent. Secondly, host Kimmel brought what many people will consider a surprisingly old-school dignity to the event with a few modern twists tossed in. And lastly, the show moved quickly -- lightning quick compared to some of the previously dull affairs -- and had a noticeable reduction in filler, particularly that middle-of-the-show bloat that often ruins a good broadcast and sends viewers looking elsewhere.

On the negative side, director Glenn Weiss (who won an Emmy himself for directing the Tony Awards) was, like so many before him, unable to create enough breathing room so that award winners -- particularly series winners -- ended up rushed or played off the stage, an all-too-frequent boondoggle for this show. On Sunday night it seemed particularly egregious because the pace was so brisk. While it's definitely a challenge to edit on the fly, particularly if the show is technically on time, erring on the side of less is often the wise choice. For example, hindsight suggests that Kimmel's spoof of the In Memoriam section was an easy cut or a fine idea left out of the rundown before the show, one of those tough decisions that ends up helping. Even aided by the always helpful Tom Hanks -- who rushed through his part -- Weiss let events bottleneck near the finish. Sometimes his decisions on playing off acceptance speeches, which is the go-to time-saver of these events, seemed sound (Tom Berenger) while others got to blather on (Kevin Costner).

No doubt it's a difficult job, but having more breathing room at the end is essential to any successful awards show.

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However, the positives far outweigh the negatives from Sunday night. And the Emmys have a sad tradition of being either bloated and boring or bloated, boring and filled with aggravating snubs. It's a rarity when you watch the Emmys and come away happy or entertained. But the 64th should be a pretty good template to follow in the future. Kimmel's performance wasn't so much shocking (people who don't know him or how great his late-night show is probably feared the worst) as it was a calculated masterstroke.

Too often awards shows have become a host-vs.-participants affair. (As someone who loves Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, it's not like I haven't been encouraging the trend.) However, the modern barometer for how a host is judged seems to rest on whether he or she hilariously skewered the nominees or whether they opted to be invisible and inoffensive instead. What Kimmel decided to do was take most but not all of the emphasis off of the hosts' comedy shtick and instead become something of a throwback, dignified chaperone of the event, choosing his quips and bits wisely (for the most part) and keeping the show in a forward-leaning direction while always managing to be present. It was a welcome shift of a paradigm that was getting stale. He managed to be composed without being bland, funny without being offensive, and he always seemed to be there to add ballast, which is essential. Many times these shows are too focused on the host and other times the host seems to be stuck in the back and the whole affair seems rudderless. What Kimmel managed to do was be present and in charge without being the center of attention -- a balance that needs to be emulated.

Chief among Kimmel's accomplishments is something that is extremely hard to do but might have been the single most important element of his hosting: He told his jokes (about presenters, shows, etc.) quickly and with an emphasis on them being concise, rather than a "look at me goofing around, aren't I funny?" selfishness that needed audience approval. That alone sped up the night and was admirable in its restraint and lack of ego.

Not everything worked, of course. The In Memoriam segment was daring but not entirely needed. I liked the awkwardness of the Tracy Morgan bit, but lots of people thought that didn't work at all. Kimmel's highlight of the night, other than captaining the ship with entertaining efficiency, was the opening taped segment with some of television's funniest women (and special credit goes to Lena Dunham, who is always fearless).

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As for the snubs? It's always healthy to argue, but what was special and impressive this year is that so many of the nominees were worthy. So if you thought Mad Men or Breaking Bad got snubbed, well, it was hard to argue with Homeland. In fact, both Claire Danes and Damian Lewis were both worthy winners coming from a stocked field (particularly Lewis). There's always going to be bitching about Modern Family's dominance in the comedy category, but sometimes that misses the bigger picture. As much as I love Girls, Parks and Recreation, Veep and 30 Rock, etc. (not to mention Louie, which didn't make the noms list), it's not like Modern Family is a crappy show. It's funny. It has always been funny. Listen, in a world of repeat winners, there could be far, far worse shows.

It was that way in so many categories. The takeaway is what matters: Television is really nailing it right now, creatively. If the night is to celebrate that, no better way than to marvel at all the worthy candidates. It should make everyone (including critics) pretty happy about the state of affairs.

The two most egregious mistakes were Jon Cryer as lead actor in a comedy (and bless his good-natured heart, even he knew that was a statue that should have gone to Don Cheadle or Louie C.K.) and Costner as lead actor in a miniseries or movie (which should have gone to Idris Elba, Woody Harrelson or Benedict Cumberbatch). Although there might have been some minor quibbles in other categories, the only other clear miss was giving Homeland the writing award, which should have clearly gone to Mad Men or Breaking Bad -- not that Homeland is poorly written, but it's success is driven by the plotting more than the writing.

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And it wouldn't be an Emmys without pointing out the lack of minority winners (and even nominees). But the real issue there is with the casting folks at the networks and cable channels, not just Emmy voters.

Ultimately, however, the 64th annual Primetime Emmys was that rare combination of a television event that successfully and entertainingly gives tribute to people who work in television (you'd think that would be easier, but all you have to do is watch most years). With a brisk pace, a stellar lineup of shows and actors and a host who took a bold step to bring the role back into balance, this was one Emmys where the bitching and moaning barely bubbled up.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine