September 18, 2016

THE EMMY AWARDS: Analysis and Review


There weren’t a lot of surprises at tonight’s EMMY AWARDS, and the truth is that where television is right now, there didn’t need to be.  (A full list of winners is here.)  Game of Thrones and Veep were arguably coming off their best seasons ever, and it would be hard to begrudge them their return visits to the winners circle, while heavy favorite The People Vs. O.J. Simpson richly deserved its many wins in the Limited Series categories, Key & Peele had established itself as sketch comedy royalty during its run, and in the post-Jon Stewart era, Last Week Tonight defines great fact-based political comedy.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sarah Paulson, Courtney B Vance, Sterling K. Brown, Regina King, Jeffrey Tambor, Louie Anderson–all had either won before or were considered the strong front-runners in their categories, and it would be hard to argue against any of them.  The biggest upsets of the night, in the lead Drama acting categories, gave awards to Tatiana Maslany, who’s deserved an Emmy since the first episode of Orphan Black aired, and Rami Malek, who brilliantly personified the most exciting new show of last season, Mr. Robot.  There was also a not-generally-expected but thoroughly earned Comedy Supporting Actress prize to Saturday Night Live‘s breakout Kate McKinnon.

(OK, fine–the supporting performance awards in Drama may have deserved an eyeroll or two.  Even without the gags about her failure to travel to the US to pick up her awards, one has to be grateful that the end of Downton Abbey also ends Maggie Smith’s stranglehold over the hearts of many Emmy voters, and Ben Mendolsohn, the superb dramatic center of Bloodline‘s Season 1, barely appeared in Season 2.  Also, an episode of Sherlock, however high-quality, somehow qualified as a “TV-movie,” which allowed it to swipe the expected win from All The Way.  That was about the extent, however, of questionable choices.)

ABC’s telecast was assured, and Jimmy Kimmel, who’s hosted before, was a nimble focal point, able to respond on a dime to moments like Comedy Director winner Jill Solloway’s acceptance speech cry to “topple the patriarchy,” while also delivering scripted bits like the latest chapter in his longrunning “feud” with Matt Damon.  (The Bill Cosby gag probably should have been rethought, not because he’s off-limits, but because it was awkwardly staged.)  The self-conscious need for a “viral” set-piece was satisfied by the stunt of having Kimmel hand out peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (supposedly all prepared by his mom) to the celebrities, the highlight of which was using the distribution of juice-box refreshments to provide many opportunities to say “Juice” to People Vs. OJ‘s David Schwimmer.  There are always quibbles about the In Memorium segment (why was Prince, a giant musical figure but a marginal one in television, chosen as anchor to the montage?), but the special spotlights to Garry Shandling and Garry Marshall were well-chosen and executed.  Leslie Jones actually got laughs out of the year’s Accountants segment.  There were, inevitably, many Donald Trump moments, both from Kimmel and various winners, and the most interesting aspect of that may have been producer Mark Burnett’s seeming inability to take a joke when Kimmel “blamed” him for Trump’s candidacy due to Burnett casting him on The Apprentice.

It’s no surprise anymore that the commercial broadcast networks, which rotate coverage of the Emmys, were barely participants, with the awards to McKinnon and King, plus a Reality Competition award to The Voice, their only wins of the night.  Tomorrow, those networks will kick off their fall seasons, and all signs are that they will again be steering away from the kind of quality that wins awards.  At least they still know how to produce awards telecasts.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."