The 59th Primetime Emmy Awards
Empty8-11 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 16
A Foxified Emmy telecast proved that you don't need to have a comedian serving as host. You can sneak jokes into presenter speeches. You can have "Family Guy's" Brian and Stewie hurl clever insults. You can use taped pieces and a rant from Lewis Black. You can do all that and put together an acceptable though unspectacular show.
The Emmys, like any awards show, is a collection of disparate elements, some funny, some serious, some musical, some dull but mandatory. The host and his patter are the glue that holds it together. When host Ryan Seacrest comes out in Henry VIII regalia and his lines bring only cricket sounds, you get mini-speed bumps instead of adhesive.
But having waited four years to televise the Emmys, Fox was not about to give up the chance to promote the darling of its "American Idol" for the sake of something as seemingly unimportant as choosing a host that might encourage viewers to stick with a telecast of three-plus hours.
Among the things that didn't work were glaring bright lights on entertainers, a balky telepromter, censored comments by Ray Romano, Katherine Heigl and Sally Field, an annoying plug for Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics" and a montage of late-night talk show host one-liners that ended illogically with a tribute to the late Tom Snyder.
And Robert Duvall, picking up two statuettes for "Broken Trail," was unceremoniously cut off in midsentence solely for the sake of shaving off a few seconds from the telecast.
Whatever shortcomings Seacrest or the telecast exhibited, the show did have some memorable moments, a modicum of humor and a lot of surprises.
Much was made of Emmy's first presentation staged as theater in the round. The design worked reasonably well for viewers but apparently was disliked by the celebrity audience. When James Spader collected his Emmy for lead actor in a drama series, he won applause for saying, "These are the worst seats I ever had."
Other things that went right included a tribute to the miniseries "Roots" on its 30th anniversary.
The acceptance speeches, though often hurried, were more entertaining than in the past. Even when they contained lists of people to be thanked, they often added something extra.
Heigl said her mother predicted she would lose. Jeremy Piven of "Entourage" joked that he wanted to thank the entire crew but, "I don't know any of their names."
Jaime Pressly of "My Name Is Earl" got choked up as she called her sitcom "the little engine that could."
Then there was the presentation of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. After an awkward sketch with a leaf blower, the duo redeemed themselves by announcing that they would give Ricky Gervais' Emmy for lead actor in a comedy series to their friend Steve Carell, who had been nominated in the category. Carell bounded onstage to take part in the merriment.
The Jersey Boys were smooth with their salute to "The Sopranos," but, with an award show already overly long, their number "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" began to sound like a prayer to viewers from the control booth.
THE 59TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS
AEG Ehrlich Ventures Llc.
Executive producer: Ken Ehrlich
Producer: Renato Basile
Line producer: Lisa Geers
Co-producer: Danette Herman
Director: Bruce Gowers
Writers: David Wild, Jon Macks, Ken Ehrlich
Production design: John Shaffner, Joe Stewart
Lighting: Bob Dickinson
Music: Tom Scott
Host: Ryan Seacrest