Shrapnel flies over bombed Emmy bit

Who loosed the Fumbling Five on the show -- and why?

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With Sunday night's 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards considered critical and ratings disappointment, industry insiders pointed fingers Monday over the show's much-discussed opening segment.

Generally regarded as one of the most unsuccessful and perplexing awards show segments in recent memory, the opening featured the show's five hosts -- Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum, Tom Bergeron, Jeff Probst and Howie Mandel, all nominees for the newly created outstanding reality host category -- bantering onstage without any planned material. The segment was quickly criticized as a vacuous time waster by winners such as Jeremy Piven and Kirk Ellis. Probst later explained that the segment was the result of the quintet being unable to come to a consensus on how to open the show.

The next day, some wondered how the production went awry.

"It's like, we let you into the party and you spilled beer all over the couch," one industry insider said of the reality hosts.

What made the episode surprising -- and seemingly bear weight beyond being a merely unfunny comedy attempt -- was that it seemed as if the hosts were choosing to embrace and validate the very put-downs their genre has had to endure, the sort of slights that this year's Emmy Awards were supposed to help rectify: that reality TV is empty and silly, the product of noncreative effort. Mandel even acknowledged the industry's prejudice during the segment, noting that the hosts often "feel like the stepchild of television."

"We all knew this was going to be a disaster on Saturday," said one source familiar with the production. "It's not like it worked in rehearsal."

Some blamed veteran producer Ken Ehrlich, who has run the past four Emmy telecasts, saying he never should have allowed the hosts to go onstage without a clear plan.

Others cite ABC, wondering why the network didn't simply tap Jimmy Kimmel to emcee -- particularly after Seacrest drew shrugs after hosting last year's awards and Kimmel continues to prove himself witty and comfortable in front of a live mike. (ABC refused comment; Ehrlich did not return a request for comment.)

At the end of the day, the bombed bit was only a bit, not the first or last. But any efforts by reality professionals to be taken more seriously may have been dealt a setback.

"Obviously, five reality hosts together onstage running a show -- not the best idea," Mandel said. "I've always felt the magic number was six hosts."