June 20, 2011 7:24pm PT by Alex Ben Block
What the Inaugural Critics Choice TV Awards Got Right and Wrong (Analysis)
The scene from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphiachosen to showcase the talents of Danny DeVito, winner of the first Television Icon Award at the inaugural Critics' Choice Television Awards on Monday, featured the diminutive star simulating the act of birth by emerging completely naked from inside a leather couch. Even with appropriate pixels, DeVito naked wasn't a pretty sight (although it was funny), which is what you can usually say about most new Hollywood awards shows.
However, for the newly formed Broadcast Television Critics Association, it was a highlight that drew laughs and spoke to the daring choices DeVito has made throughout his career. In other words, like this spanking new kudofest, it was just off the wall enough, rude enough and unexpected enough to help make for a special moment.
For a first-time show, the fast-paced afternoon event at the Beverly Hills Hotel was a success on a number of levels. Although it was launched only a few months ago, and came during the period when most TV shows are on hiatus (which means talent are usually away on vacation), the awards program drew an outstanding turnout that included numerous stars, top producers and a throng of media. Among those in attendance were Connie Britton, Alan Cummings, Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, Neil Patrick Harris, Ed O'Neill and Jane Lynch.
The hostess for the event was Cat Deeley, the former English model who is best known on this side of the pond as host of So You Think You Can Dance. Deeley looked great and brought a lot of energy to the show, making occasional appearances (mostly to do introductions) and she mercifully didn't try to do a lot of comedy or improvisation.
The personality was supplied by some of the presenters, like Kevin Connolly, Kaley Cuoco, Wilmer Valderrama and Sarah Michelle Gellar. There was some scripted banter that fell flat but for the most part the presenters helped keep the show moving along.
Some odd structuring popped up during the program. Clips from the best drama and comedy nominees played as if the awards were about to be presented, which turned out to just be a tease. Those winners weren't named until the end of the program.
There was also something odd about the made-up category of most exciting new series, with nominations based on a pilot episode of shows that are on the networks' schedule for this fall and early next year. While ABC's Apartment 23 and Fox's Terra Nova may have buzz, seeing clips was little more than a promo for the series.
Then, having created this strange category, the critics gave all of the nominees awards. There was no one winner, which was never really explained properly. It was like one of those kids soccer leagues where every child is declared a winner and given a little trophy that they can put on the mantle at home so they don't have to feel like a loser. But critics are supposed to have opinions, so even if the category was a joke, once it was created, they should have crowned a winner.
The group also made a mistake stopping the program about two-thirds of the way through for an intermission so the waiters could clear the tables and bring out desert. By then it was well into the afternoon and much of the Hollywood crowd took that as a cue to exit, leaving a half empty room by the time the biggest awards were presented. That break won't be seen on the Reelz Channel telecast on Thursday, but viewers may notice that the crowd had thinned considerably for the final award presentations.
The mix of winners was in some cases the usual choices and in others a surprise. The big winner was Mad Men, which after four seasons has been heralded by every group on TV from the original critics awards to the Emmys. It deserved the awards it won for best drama and best actor and actress, but after such a long time off the air, and having won so often before, it seemed a bit anti-climatic. Luckily Mad Men creator Matt Weiner was there to acknowledge the surprise of winning for the long-ago fourth season, showing his usual mix of wit and humility.
Critics Choice made a good choice in separating the reality nominees between competition shows and other nonfiction shows, as the Emmys do. But it then made a surprising choice in picking American Idol as the winner in the competition category which included Dancing With the Stars and Emmy-darling The Amazing Race. It is not that it is a bad choice, but Idol is famous for being the most viewed show, not for being a critical darling. Maybe this is its year for the Emmy.
The choice of Mike Rowe as best reality show host for Dirty Jobs was another surprise, as he beat out Deeley, Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars and Ryan Seacrest of Idol. It was such a surprise there was little applause when Rowe was announced. He wasn't undeserving but he seemed more appropriate a winner for what he has to put up with on his show than for the brilliance of his work.
There were also two categories in which the critics declared a tie, including splitting the award for best reality series between Hoarders and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (all of whom seemed to be on hand in Beverly Hills to accept). The other split was between Christina Hendricks of Mad Men and Margo Martindale of Justified. They are both fine performers, but does a group of critics really need to record a tie?
Neil Patrick Harris, who has proven he can sing, dance and host award shows, was a delight when he won his award as best supporting actor in a comedy for How I Met Your Mother. He thanked the critics for "treating our show more like Lost and less like According to Jim."
DeVito was a good choice as the first to win an honorary lifetime achievement "icon" award. He was funny, salty and a bit outrageous when he spoke. He talked about how important it was to have "balls," which he said his wife, Rhea Pearlman, had (yes he said women can be said to have balls in the metaphoric sense), the creators of Philadelphia had and clearly he had. He also praised the critics for pulling off this show in a short time; meaning DeVito thought they had balls too.
It was clear that most of the stars and creators present were from shows based in Los Angeles. A few people did come from New York, but that did not include Tina Fey, who is pregnant. She won best actress in a comedy. That actually was to the credit of the critics, because they refused to tell the nominees who was a winner in advance like, say, the People's Choice Awards, so they probably lost some potential star acceptors. However, they did show some integrity, which is a good thing.
The setting was classy, the program glossy and the event relatively painless, which, compared to most Hollywood award shows, was merciful. They ran a list of the sixty or so members of the newly formed group that voted, many of whom are not critics at all but simply television journalists. I guess calling it the Critics and Journalist's Choice would have been too clumsy, but it would have been accurate.
For the major awards, the critics did get it right choosing Modern Family as best comedy, as well as Mad Men as best drama, and in both cases the shows' executive producers were on hand to gratefully accept.
For the most part, this new group got it right and the audience in Beverly Hills seemed to agree. When actor Adam Scott of Parks & Recreationtook the stage and said, "I wish I was presenting an award for best new awards show," he got some enthusiastic applause. The audience agreed and those who care about these awards when they air on the ReelzChannel are likely to agree as well.