The night the Emmys got 'Modern'

TV Academy votes for shows with buzz

It was out with the repeats and in with the upbeat as one Emmy trophy after another was copped by newcomers or first-timers -- think "Modern Family," "Glee," Aaron Paul, Archie Panjabi, Eric Stonestreet, "Top Chef," Steve Shill and Bucky Gunts -- and only intermittently wrested away by such past recipients as Bryan Cranston, Matthew Weiner, Edie Falco and Jon Stewart.

In short, the impertinent and infectious stole the show Sunday at the 62nd annual Emmy Awards as ABC's "Family" walked springingly away with multiple accolades while a passel of past winners had to do with only a handful of nods.
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Even a few hitherto snubbed shows and overlooked thespians -- like fifth-time nominee Kyra Sedgwick in "The Closer" -- finally got their moment in the limelight in what was a determinedly sprightly and well-executed three-hour show hosted by Jimmy Fallon.

HBO, AMC, Showtime and TNT also could feel good about their haul, which balanced nicely with honors to re-energized broadcast series and to such cable faves as AMC's "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."

HBO's haul for its telepic "Temple Grandin" was particularly impressive and made all the more so by the appearance of the protagonist herself in the audience and various call-outs to her from the stage. (CBS came away with little from the evening, and host broadcaster NBC was virtually empty-handed by 8 p.m.) AMC could lay claim to a couple of records as well, including first cabler to win for outstanding drama three consecutive years.

But emotionally, the night belonged to the mockumentary "Modern Family," which is produced by Twentieth Television but airs on ABC. The show's triumphs were not only the highlight of the telecast but a symbol of a new comic dynamism in Tinseltown. The sitcom came away with the top comedy prize, a supporting actor nod for Stonestreet and a writing award for exec producer/co-creator Steve Levitan. In fact, practically every actor in the series -- Stonestreet, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen -- got a nomination.

Fox's "Glee," too, is part of this rejuvenation, especially given its interesting hybrid genre and its hold on the family audience -- even if its tally was disappointing.

The tone was set within the first 30 minutes and in the first four awards as Stonestreet and Levitan snapped up the first two and "Glee" garnered statuettes for supporting actress (Jane Lynch) and outstanding direction of a comedy (Ryan Murphy). Then it was the turn of another first-timer, Jim Parsons of CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," to nab the gold for best comedy actor.

In the acting categories, it was mostly fresh faces, and a couple of long-ignored ones, who made their way to the stage to claim their spoils. The closest thing to an upset in the top categories arguably was Sedgwick for her performance as a spunky detective in TNT's "The Closer," besting "The Good Wife's" Julianna Margulies, "Friday Night Lights' " long-overlooked Connie Britton and past winners Glenn Close and Mariska Hargitay.

Falco managed to triumph in the super-hot comedy actress race -- becoming the first actress to win a lead Emmy for both drama (three times for "The Sopranos") and comedy, this time for her off-kilter role in "Nurse Jackie."

There was added impetus this go-round to make the show more relevant and more appealing to younger demos since negotiations for multiyear rotating renewals with the Big Four broadcast networks should get under way in earnest soon. Broadcasters will be scrutinizing the Nielsen numbers to see if there's any leverage to be had to lower their current $7.5 million fee to air the extravaganza. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, meanwhile, is hoping that the live national airing and no regular-season NFL competition will boost viewership beyond the 13.3 million mark the telecast hit last year and hence boost its negotiating stance.

From a glance at the winners, it was clear the famously fustian TV Academy made an effort to embrace more commercial fare and the producers of the telecast to come up with ploys, like an audience tweeting contest, to attract younger viewers.

There also was a decidedly intimate tone to the proceedings, with clip packages of the year in reality, comedy and drama helping to focus audience attention on the overall achievements and output of the industry.

"Our search each year is for classic work -- be it in old or in new design," Academy chairman-CEO John Shaffner said. "Jane Lynch's performance, for example, is a classic one, drawing on the past and making something new out of it. That's what we're here to honor in all its forms. I can't remember when there was such diversity of programming and quality of material all coming together,"

And for whatever reason, there was little pontificating or politicking onstage this year. In accepting his Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, George Clooney encouraged the audience and viewers to not forget the disasters in Haiti, New Orleans, Pakistan and the Sudan, but that was largely the extent of the impingement from the outside world.

For his part, Levitan must be in seventh heaven, having seen his offbeat half-hour chalk up six wins (including the Creative Emmys), not to mention other accolades as diverse as a Peabody and a People's Choice Award.

"The show has embraced emotion, and emotion and comedy have sort of gone out of vogue," Levitan said backstage. "Maybe people were hungry for it. I think people wanted to laugh and to feel something."

This Emmy outing, produced with panache by veteran Don Mischer, put the accent on the spunky and sparkling, not only in its choice of talent to honor but also in its pacing and pithiness. Most of the presenters stuck to their scripts, with only a couple departing: Ricky Gervais to the delight of the crowd, Lauren Graham and Matthew Perry to the befuddlement of all.

By its very nature repetitive and episodic, the television awards have to consider the same shows year after year whereas the Oscars and Grammys are by their nature always honoring new contenders. So it was clear that TV Academy voters made a conscious point to avoid that "not again" complaint from viewers.

The biggest exceptions this go-round: Cranston, who nabbed his third consecutive trophy for his out-there performance in "Breaking Bad," and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," which pocketed its seventh Emmy in the variety, music or comedy series category and disappointing those who were hoping to hear Conan O'Brien take to the stage and get some laughs at the expense of his former bosses at NBC.

Once again, HBO came away from the Emmy season with the largest haul of gold -- 25 awards -- scoring particularly well, as usual, with its entry in the outstanding miniseries race with "The Pacific" (admittedly up against only a PBS/BBC period piece called "Return to Cranford"). The premium cabler also could crow about wins in the competitive made-for category with "Grandin" and "You Don't Know Jack," the network competing mostly against itself, as it were.

The actor nods in the telepic category also went to HBO pics -- to Claire Danes and Al Pacino for their gripping performances as autism advocate Grandin and as "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian -- and to first-time winners Julia Ormond and David Strathairn for their supporting work in "Grandin." The pic also picked up a kudo for director Mick Jackson.
"Here's to HBO for pushing the envelope and dispelling the mystery of this thing so many have called autism," Straithern said from the stage, at which point the real Grandin stood up in the Nokia Theatre audience to a round of applause.

For its part, Showtime, which reveled in success last year with a win by Toni Collette for "United States of Tara," repeated with a victory by Falco. The actress said she was "beyond speechless" after receiving her trophy; "I'm not funny," she confessed.

One of the clear messages from this year is how far broadcasters have come in emulating their cable counterparts by creating edgy, or just plain well-conceived and well-crafted, television. Shows such as "The Sopranos," "Dexter" "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" might have set the bar, but the five broadcast networks are nudging it upward -- even as a few perennial winners were finally knocked off their perches.

CBS' reality competition series "The Amazing Race" finally got pipped at the finish line by Bravo's "Top Chef" after four attempts at outdistancing the incumbent, which up until Sunday had been the only show to win in the category, going 7-for-7. The cooking show also bested two other strong contenders in ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," whose 10th season was one of its most polished, and "American Idol."

As for those shows which continued to be ignored, "Friday Night Lights" failed to wow the voters in any major category, while the final seasons of "Lost" and "Monk" also went home empty-handed.
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