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The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards honored the year’s best in television on Sunday night, returning to an in-person show after last year’s largely virtual, audience-free celebration. Hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, the ceremony was filled with a number of standout moments. Some of the most memorable highlights of the 2021 telecast included the opening number — which involved the entire star-studded audience, led by a few special guests — and moments from a handful of powerful speeches.
Read on for a recap of the Emmy Awards’ most memorable moments.
Actor and stand-up comedian Cedric the Entertainer kicked off Sunday’s event by leading the audience in a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” with the chorus, “TV, you’ve got what I need.”
The performance was a lively tribute to the legendary rapper. “RIP Biz Markie,” the Emmy host said at the end of the number, which included participation from LL Cool J, Rita Wilson, Lil Dicky and many others.
The lyrics included phrases like, “Sick of the quarantining,” as audience members were shown dancing and singing along. – Trilby Beresford
In his host’s monologue, which occurred after a few awards had been announced, Cedric the Entertainer declared “It feels good, we’re all vaxxed.” Speaking about having to be vaccinated for the show, he said, “I did not have a reaction like Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend, okay. I got Pfizer, you know what I’m saying? Because I’m bougie.”
Noting how everyone was looking their best and with so many well-known faces in the auditorium, he said: “Lock the doors, we’re not leaving till we find a new host for Jeopardy!“
“It’s a celebration here tonight,” he continued. “What I like about this awards show is everyone is dressed like regular rich folks.” He later quipped, “Billy Porter, y’all know he’s gonna come with it.”
Striking a serious note, Cedric the Entertainer said: “This is a big job, it comes with a lot of pressure, being Black, hosting a job like this.” He noted that a lot of Black people are nominated, going on to shout out Anthony Anderson, in particular.
He mentioned The Crown, which is nominated multiple times. “As great as The Crown is, it pales in comparison to the real monarchy,” he joked. On Meghan Markle’s “hold” on Prince Harry, Cedric quipped: “He renounced his throne quicker than Eddie Murphy did in Coming to America.” – Beresford
The Emmys took great pains to be COVID-compliant, requiring attendees to be vaccinated and present negative test results, and the location for the awards show was even switched to the event deck at L.A. Live from its longtime venue of the Microsoft Theater in hopes the technically outdoor location would allow for better social distancing.
But very little time was wasted in the telecast before the setting was addressed — and questioned. Seth Rogen, in presenting the first trophy of the evening for supporting actress in a comedy series, said, “There’s way too many of us in this little room. They said it was outdoors. It’s not.” He added: “I would not have come to this. Why is there a roof? This is insane. … I went from wiping my groceries to having Paul Bettany sneeze in my face. That’s a big week.” – Chris Gardner
When Hannah Waddingham took to the stage to accept her award, the Ted Lasso star screamed out in celebration of her first-time Emmy as her fellow nominees and award show attendees cheered. The British actress then thanked co-star Jason Sudeikis, telling him, “you changed my life with this and more importantly, my baby girl’s.”
Waddingham yelled again with delight over having just won before thanking Apple TV+, Warner Bros. and the writer’s room behind the Emmy nominated series. “The thing that’s charming about you, all of you, is that you don’t realize how wonderful you are,” Waddingham said. “I just don’t think people realize what you bring to the room when we’re all quiet together. I am so grateful to even be in your gaggle.”
Waddingham paid tribute to her co-star and fellow supporting actress nom Temple, telling her if she could break off a part of her award to give to her, she would. “There’s no Rebecca without Keeley,” Waddingham said.
The actress then thanked her parents, who she noted she nearly lost during the filming of the series’ latest season, saying, “I am so glad that you are here to see this moment.” – Sharareh Drury
Kerry Washington paid tribute to The Wire actor and Lovecraft Country star Michael K. Williams while presenting the supporting actor in a drama series category.
During her brief tribute, Washington called Williams a “brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon.”
“I know you’re here because you wouldn’t miss this. Your excellence, your artistry will endure. We love you,” she added.
Nominated in the supporting actor in a drama category for his role as Montrose Freeman in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, the actor was considered the frontrunner before his death earlier this month at age 54. The win went to The Crown‘s Tobias Menzies. – Abbey White
Television Academy voters delivered a special message to RuPaul on Sunday: “Shantay, you stay in the history books.”
VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race won a trophy for outstanding competition program, a victory that gives RuPaul an 11th Emmy and solidifies his place as the most decorated Black artist in Emmy Awards history.
During the show’s acceptance speech, Ru did not make mention of the history-making win. Instead, he thanked the Academy, Viacom and CBS and “all of you gorgeous people here tonight.”
“Really thanks to all of our lovely children on our show from around the world,” he continued. “You know, they are so gracious to tell their stories of courage and how to navigate this difficult life [that was more difficult this year]. This is for you and for you kids out there watching. Come to Mama Ru.” – Gardner
Eugene Levy’s Writers Room Pitch Backfires
When taking the stage with his Schitt’s Creek family, Eugene Levy realized he made a mistake.
When he, son and co-creator Dan Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy stepped up to the mic to present the award for best writing in a comedy series, the comedic, Emmy-winning foursome appeared befuddled at their missing cue cards. Without a script, they wondered aloud why they were being treated this way — until the elder Levy revealed that he insulted the writers before the show.
“You casually told a group of comedy writers to ‘lift’ your dialogue a little?” said Dan upon hearing his father’s story. Once they got going and presented their second award, Eugene noted, to laughs at their bit, that the writers had taken away his lines. – Jackie Strause
Michaela Coel and Julianne Nicholson used their acceptance speeches to platform the issues of sexual assault and women facing rights restrictions in places like Texas and Afghanistan.
The I May Destroy You creator, who won this year’s writing for a limited or anthology series or movie honor, began her speech by saying that it was for writers, but she ultimately ended with a powerful show dedication to assault survivors.
“Write the tale that scares you. That makes you feel uncertain. That isn’t comfortable. I dare you,” she began her speech. “In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — don’t be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.”
“I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault,” she concluded.
During her acceptance speech, Mare of Easttown star and supporting actress in a limited or anthology series or movie winner Nicholson gave a subtle nod to women impacted by the Texas abortion ban and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal, telling the Emmys audience, “I owe this to you, and all of the ladies out there in Philadelphia, in Kabul, in Texas or anywhere struggling sometimes, finding it hard to be happy sometimes, understanding that life can be a lot sometimes, but never stopping, never losing hope, never giving up.” – White
Debbie Allen received the Television Academy’s 2021 Governors Award on Sunday. The celebrated dancer, choreographer, actress, writer, producer and director was chosen by the Television Academy’s board of governors for her TV achievements and her commitment to inspire and engage marginalized youth through dance, theater arts and mentorship.
Ahead of Allen’s acceptance speech, Ava DuVernay, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ellen Pompeo and Michael Douglas introduced her with an ode to her Fame role as Lydia Grant, reciting her famous “You want fame” line. Allen then took to the stage in a dazzling red gown, thanking the Academy for the “incredible honor” and admitted she was “trembling with gratitude and grace.”
“I am trying not to cry and be equal to the situation because it’s been many years in the making,” Allen told the Emmys audience. “It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time. A lot of courage and creativity and fight and faith to believe that I could keep going and I have.”
Allen then waved off the award show timer and continued by thanking all of those who have given her opportunities to “become Debbie Allen” including Steven Spielberg and Shonda Rhimes. “Thank you so much to those who understand and have unconditionally supported everything that I’ve tried to do for my community,” Allen continued.
“Let this moment resonate with women across this country and across the world, from Texas to Afghanistan. Let them know,” Allen said. “For young people who have no vote, who can’t even get a vaccine — they’re inheriting the world that we live in and where we lead them. It’s time for you to claim your power. Play your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.” – Drury
Netflix, which was the first streaming service to land a Primetime Emmy Award nomination back in 2013, but was beaten to series wins by competitors Hulu and Amazon Prime, has finally snagged a series award of its own — two, to be exact.
The fourth season of The Crown, Peter Morgan’s opus about the British royal family, was awarded the best drama series prize during the 2021 Emmys telecast, prevailing over formidable competition including Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Amazon Prime’s The Boys, Disney+’s The Mandalorian, FX’s Pose, NBC’s This Is Us and fellow Netflix nominee Bridgerton.
A few moments later, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit won best limited series, giving the streamer two top prizes at the 2021 Emmys. – Scott Feinberg
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