Mr. fix it
When Emmy and Grammy Awards telecast veteran Ken Ehrlich starts thinking about what he wants to do as the new executive producer of the Emmy telecast -- now that executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick of Fox's megahit "American Idol" have backed out of the job -- he's going to be faced with the same set of dilemmas that have stared down, and bested, award-show producers for decades.
How much time should he spend on the awards themselves? How long should the winners get to speak? Do audiences really not want to see production numbers anymore, or is that just jaded critics talking?
Rob Owen, TV editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and president of the Television Critics Assn., has one simple suggestion: "Do something to make it more memorable because right now, I can't remember anything about last year's show."
Owen's biggest beef with award shows are the montages and clips packages that dominate the proceedings. "Too many clips, and you feel like you're watching a rerun," he says. And he takes issue with the argument that viewers need to see a lot of clips in order to be aware of exactly what's being celebrated and why. While that approach might make sense to award shows like the Oscars -- where oftentimes, movies haven't yet opened wide -- or the Tonys, he feels that the Emmys are special, for one key reason. "We don't all get to Broadway," he says. "But we do get to see everything on TV."
TV Guide's Matt Roush agrees, defining the crux of the problem as, "How do you make the Emmys more like an event -- when it's TV, and it's the stuff you're watching every week? For my purpose, if the show can reflect how much fun it is to watch TV, that's what I want."
Roush recommends that actors show up as their TV characters, or that Ehrlich hire smart sketch comics to write and perform some clever parodies. "You should be able to have fun with television," he says.
Owen concurs. "Make it more like a party, like the Golden Globes, or the MTV Movie Awards of about five years ago. Those are the gold standard of 'entertaining' awards shows."
Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (and vp of the TCA) offers a counterintuitive suggestion. He says, "Every winner, all winners, should be allowed to say as much as they want. That's what I watch for, and I think in retrospectives of award shows, that's what the content is -- that's what's spontaneous and interesting."
But he hastens to add, "I'm not that nuts about hearing a long line of agents."
That, of course, is the problem. The Emmy telecast has business to conduct: the handing out of awards. And the recipients have their own obligations to make sure that everyone on their management team feels loved. And neither of those goals takes into account what the audience might want. Unless a popular show or actor wins -- or a winner says something memorably outrageous -- the Emmys are reduced to a kind of fashion show, where the clothes are seen only in short glimpses.
At the very least, Roush says, the Emmys should make some effort to encapsulate the year of television that it covers in some meaningful way. To that end, he says, "I hope Sanjaya is a part of it." And he's only half kidding. "Idol's" most divisive contestant, Sanjaya Malakar, became a national obsession for a couple of months, all courtesy of television. If the Emmys want to serve as a kind of time capsule, Roush thinks that everything about the year's TV-inspired zeitgeist should be acknowledged, good or bad.
In the end though, when asked what he'd do to fix the Emmys, Roush throws up his hands. "Honestly, rather than giving advice, I'd probably just commiserate with them. I mean, I'm racking my brains trying to remember last year's show. Isn't that awful? Did they even have a host last year?"
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