Emmys: An ‘In Memoriam’ Post Mortem — What Went Wrong

For all the surprising results at the 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards, it appears their particular lasting legacy will be, as “Modern Family” exec producer Steve Levitan said, “the saddest Emmys ever. ”

As much as we treasure the memory of the departed superstars, I can’t imagine that signature collection was the producers’ intention.

The fact that sorrow and even anger overshadowed the separate tributes to James Gandolfini, Gary David Goldberg, Jean Stapleton, Jonathan Winters and, most controversially, Cory Monteith, was the product of many miscalculations, and as gloomy as the subject might be, it’s worth analyzing exactly where things went wrong.

1) The downside of improve notice

The uncomfortable, often nasty and therefore absolutely unfortunate angst centered on the special tributes would have been avoided had the Academy and CBS chosen not to publicize them beforehand. And the only reason to publicize them is for precisely the reason many people objected to Monteith’s inclusion: as a hardly disguised attempt to boost the Emmycast’s ratings. There’s absolutely no other incentive.

Arguably, it was “Mission Achieved. ” Sunday’s kudocast drew 17. 6 million viewers, the ceremony’s highest total in eight years. It didn’t hurt the target audience totals that CBS, with an NFL lead-in, was broadcasting, but chances are more people tuned in around the promise of the Monteith tribute than tuned out.

Even though ratings (and the revenue these people generate) are the reason behind virtually any plan, let alone the Emmys, trading around the untimely death of a star is a crass way to get there. And as sincere as Ken Ehrlich no doubt involved the meaning Monteith had to his enthusiasts, I don’t see how you can argue that their death wasn’t being used as a ratings draw.

Had the tributes gone exactly the same way as they did Sunday, but without improve publicity, people would still have discussed Monteith’s inclusion. But the motives might have been much harder to query, and the aftertaste wouldn’t have been nearly as unpleasant.

2) The capricious cutoff

The Academy was simply asking for trouble by giving extra attention to Monteith and not Larry Hagman and Jack port Klugman. Yes, you could argue that it’s not clear where you draw the line. Do you stop after Klugman while eschewing names like Charles Durning, Annette Funicello or Bonnie Franklin? Probably, maybe not.

What is clear is where you don’t draw the line. You do not draw it where it simply leaves out two actors who were major TV stars across the decades. Frankly, though Monteith became a target, I’m not sure you include Winters in a special Emmy memory before Hagman and Klugman, and I say that as a big fan of Winters and someone who didn’t watch “Dallas. ”

Given the show that we saw, which featured no small amount of bloat or ill-executed numbers (If “Emmy Gold Dancers” were going to work, even actually, it needed some kind of added twist), and given that the average length of the special tributes was about 60 seconds, it’s simply hard to make the case that Ehrlich and Co. couldn’t find the time for Hagman and Klugman. Bejesus, even if those tributes caused the show to run an extra two minutes over, that’s not what people might have complained about. There is zero reason for their omission.

Particularly, based on how important Hagman was in order to CBS, thanks to “Dallas, ” their exclusion really is inexplicable. More than one person has wondered whether Winters’ link to Robin Williams, whose new CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS series debuts this week, was the reason that Winters got the jerk.

Man, this is simply an ugly conversation.

3) The stymieing timing

When I initial heard about the special tributes, for whatever reason I had it in my head that they would all come at once. I actually didn’t figure that they would be sprinkled throughout the ceremony. And I certainly did not imagine that they would essentially become the show’s act breaks, each one leading right into a commercial and ensuring that nearly every temporarily stop to breathe for the show would be a depressing one.

There’s something actually kind of worthy about turning one of Hollywood’s celebratory nights into an evening of remembrance and contemplation — a reminder in essence to hug your loved ones — but it’s hard to fathom that was the goal. In any case, the price you spend on that kind of timing is a somber ceremony, one that makes the broad attempts at music and comedy even more jarring.

4) The more, the unmerrier

OK, so you’re going the extra mile to remember five of these who have left us. Maybe then, a good idea would be to put the brakes on other major homages to the left.

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Ruben F. Kennedy is noteworthy — an occasion that is sure to be revisited over and over again between now and November. 22. You can understand the Academy’s wish to put its own stamp on that milestone, but by the time it shown in the Emmycast, the maudlin high quality overwhelmed any potential insight, viewpoint or catharsis.

The segue into the Beatles and Carrie Underwood singing “Yesterday” didn’t exactly help.

In short, the Academy probably should have made an option between the Kennedy moment and the special tributes. Doing it all bent the Emmys into something they weren’t really equipped to be.

5) The second-class people

Although it was hardly the first time one or more departed superstars have been singled out by an awards show, all the attention to the five definitely had the impact of making the traditional “In Memoriam” segment seem like a consolation prize.

It also made the insult to the people who were left off entirely — Elmore Leonard, anyone? — appear even greater.

As recently as the Creative Arts Emmys wedding ceremony on Sept. 15, the TV School avoided these problems, by showing its roll call of names to remember, then quietly following this having an unpromoted tribute to soundmaster Ray Dolby. The result was exactly what you would hope for — Dolby got additional attention as a pioneer, but with out overshadowing the others in the process.

It will be interesting to see how the memorials at this year’s Emmys affect following year’s. You can imagine that the clamoring meant for special tributes for certain members of TV royalty will begin long before Emmy week arrives (in August, on NBC).

The best that we can hope for, as always, is for annually that brings us as few people, popular or anonymous, passing away as possible.

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