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The International Emmys host, Bassem Youssef, may be a satirist, but he wasn’t in the mood to kick off Monday night’s awards ceremony with a joke, indicating that the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris and other international tragedies were weighing on him.
“I was supposed to start with an opening joke,” the man known as Egypt’s version of Jon Stewart said. “But that plan changed last week. The world is still in a state of trauma. Not just from Paris, but also from Mali, Beirut, Nigeria, Kenya and Sinai in Egypt, where I am from. And on and on and on. It’s brutal, it’s horrible and it’s unfair. But when people get together to celebrate art and creativity and the best of what the human race can aspire to, we find our capacity to heal and to grow.”
The evening’s biggest accolades went to HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who was honored with the directorate award, and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who received the founders award. Fellowes was introduced by Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern who said, “The greatest thrill of all for me … has been the privilege of embodying a character created by Julian Fellowes.”
Fellowes, who won the best original screenplay Oscar in 2002 for Gosford Park, said that he had “spent many, many years wondering if anything was ever going to happen” and credited “luck and chance and happenstance” for his big break.
“I want to dedicate this award tonight to all those men and women, many more talented than I, who have never been given the chance to show what they can do,” he said, also thanking late Gosford Park director Robert Altman for stopping the studio from firing him from the film. “I can’t tell you what that meant to me at the time.”
Before McGovern took the stage, Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame praised Fellowes, who writes the entire show himself, and recalled the resistance he received from Fellowes when he suggested they create a serialized version of Gosford. “He crinkled his face,” said Neame. “He was worried lightning doesn’t strike twice.” Of course, the series turned out to be a hit, with Naeme calling Fellowes “a master storyteller, with a hunger for narrative.”
“He understand hopes, fears and dreams,” continued Neame. “In my opinion, he has the sentiment and turn of phrase to capture every human emotion and every possible event within a lifetime.” He also dubbed Abbey as “Britain’s most successful scripted TV export and the biggest foreign television show to succeed in the United States.”
The evening’s other honoree, Plepler, was introduced by Michael Douglas, who marveled at Plepler’s tenure at HBO before remarking, “And the guy happens to be better looking than me.”
Plepler remained humble during his acceptance, applauding the entire team at HBO. “That is the secret sauce of our company,” he said of his 3,200 colleagues from around the globe. “It doesn’t matter what area of the company we’re speaking about, we have the best team in the business, and that is the secret to HBO’s success.”
Plepler also congratulated Fellowes, saying, “You’ve done something enduring and special and you should be very, very proud of it.”
The evening’s other winners included French series Spiral for best drama series, Brazil’s Sweet Mother for best comedy series and the U.K.’s 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy for best non-scripted entertainment series.
As host, Youssef ultimately supplied political and self-referential humor, riffing on presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ben Carson and repeatedly joking about his own Arab experience. The underlying theme of the evening, though, was the importance of maintaining togetherness as a community.
French victories bookended the night. When Helene Badinter accepted the award for best arts programming for French film The Man Who Saved the Louvre, she echoed the need for “resistance to barbarism” and remarked that “the more we love, the more they lose. Viva France!”
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