Demise of broadcast TV is a hot topic

A new kind of anxiety emerged at this year's Emmys

Nervousness at the Emmys is nothing new, but those who took the stage Sunday at the Nokia Theatre exhibited a different kind of anxiety, referencing declining broadcast ratings in general and Emmy apathy in particular.

"Amy (Poehler) and I are honored to be presenting on the last official year of network broadcast television," presenter Julia Louis-Dreyfus said.

During a time when broadcast has struggled to stave off ratings declines as cable networks and online viewing rise, the Emmys drew a record-low 12.3 million viewers last year.

"That joke is just for the 5,000 people in this room, not for the 5,000 people watching at home," presenter Ricky Gervais quipped.

Looking to turn around the ratings fortunes, the ceremony's producers shook things up, trying to inject entertaining tidbits into even the most routine of conventions -- like reading nominees off a Facebook page. But faced with category after category won by familiar names, even host Neil Patrick Harris made a quip about how predictable the winners were after CBS' "The Amazing Race" won for a seventh year in a row.

The "moments of unpredictability" promised by Emmy executive producer Don Mischer mainly were in the script of the production rather than in the results, raising concerns that such a scorecard might hamper any chance for a ratings rebound, despite Harris' plea to viewers in the opening number to "put down the remote." (In the number Harris listed major TV networks, with HBO conspicuously missing.)

In one of the slew of widely expected victories, creator-star Tina Fey went up to accept a third consecutive best comedy series Emmy for NBC's "30 Rock." She referenced "The Jay Leno Show" taking over the Peacock's 10 p.m. hour from scripted shows -- another end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it industry touchstone.

"I want to thank our friends at NBC for keeping us on the air even though we're more expensive than a talk show," she said.

In the face of gloom and doom, however, broadcast TV received a strong endorsement from an unlikely source: Matthew Weiner, creator of AMC's "Mad Men," which has been in the forefront of cable's ascent against broadcast.

"I actually thought it was a pretty resounding support of broadcast television tonight," Weiner said of the mix of winners from both worlds. "CBS put on an amazing Emmys. I've gone to seven of these and it was the best by far -- and a broadcast network did that."

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The ongoing battle for relevance was dramatized at one point during the show when, in a pretaped bit, Harris reprised his role as online sensation Dr. Horrible, who hijacks the broadcast.

"I've hacked into your broadcast to tell you that television is dead," Harris-as-Horrible said. "The future of home entertainment is the Internet."

Then, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) appears to save the day, striking Horrible and declaring, "Television is here to stay."