With so much of prime-time network television being taken over by so-called reality shows, it is no wonder that the big winners at the 60th Primetime Emmys — an awards show that mainly celebrates acting and writing — would hail from cable rather than from the broadcast networks.
HBO, the perennial Emmy powerhouse, took home the most golden statuettes on Sunday, winning 10 Emmys, including awards for its made-for-television movie "Recount," its mini-series "John Adams," its comedy series "Entourage" and its drama series "In Treatment."
AMC, the cable channel formerly known as American Movie Classics, won three awards, two of them for its first-year scripted series "Mad Men," which won best drama series, becoming the first basic cable show to win the prestigious award. Bryan Cranston won best actor in a drama series for his portrayal of Walt White on "Breaking Bad," another first-year drama on AMC, which broadcast only seven episodes in its first year.
FX, the cable channel that is a cousin of the Fox network, also won two acting awards for its rookie-season drama "Damages." Glenn Close took the award for best actress in a drama series for her portrayal of Patty Hewes, a plaintiff's lawyer for whom winning is an obsession, and Zeljko Ivanek won best supporting actor for his portrayal of Ray Fiske, her main legal adversary.
"It really has been the ride of my career," Close said backstage after receiving her award. "This was as good as any part you would find in a feature film. I can't wait to see where our writers take us this year."
The viewers of all those cable series added together might not total the number that watched the Emmy broadcast. But television executives are nothing if not optimistic, and if anything, the performance of the five reality-show hosts who together played masters of ceremony on the awards show might inspire the executives not to abandon scripted television.
With the addition this year of a new category for best reality-show host, the producers of the Emmys decided to have the five nominees share the burden of master of ceremony for the awards show.
But it was only a few minutes into the show when, with the Nokia Theater audience alarmingly silent in reaction to the hosts' failed attempts at a humorous opening, Howie Mandel, one of the hosts, quipped: "The government cannot even bail us out of this."
Jeremy Piven, who won best supporting actor in a comedy series for his role on "Entourage," said backstage that the audience was not sure what was happening. "I thought we were being punked as an audience," Piven said. "It was a celebration of nothingness, so I was confused."
Kirk Ellis, who won the writing award for his mini-series "John Adams," was even less impressed, reacting angrily backstage that so few award winners were given time to say much of anything. "I thought it interesting that we can have 30 minutes of a show devoted to reality show hosts, but the people who create the work don't have time to talk," he said.
Jeff Probst, the host of CBS's "Survivor," who won the award for best reality show host, acknowledged that the results of the effort were less than exhilarating. "We knew all along it would be tough," he said. "Having five people agree on anything is tough. Every time we would have one idea, two people would disagree. That's why we ended up with nothing."
Broadcast television did capture some of its own accolades, with NBC's "30 Rock" sweeping the major comedy awards. It won best comedy series for the second straight year, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin took home the awards for best comedy actress and actor, and Fey took home another award for her writing of the episode titled "Cooter."
Fey, who last year thanked the "dozens" of people who watched the show, reminded viewers this year than the show "can be viewed on NBC.com, Hulu, iTunes, United Airlines and "occasionally on actual television."
ABC won three awards, two of them for much-admired first-year series. Jean Smart won best supporting actress for her role as a straight-talking mother on "Samantha Who?," and Barry Sonnenfeld won the award for directing a comedy series for the pilot episode of "Pushing Daisies." Those were two of the few hit comedy series to survive last year's strike-interrupted television season. ABC's third victory was by Louis J. Horvitz for directing the 80th Academy Awards.
HBO's "John Adams" won five awards on Sunday, including best mini-series, and 13 Emmy awards overall, counting those awarded at an earlier ceremony this month. That made "John Adams" the most decorated mini-series ever, ahead of "Angels in America," which had the previous record with 11 victories.
Another multiple winner for HBO was "Recount," which was named best made-for-television movie. Jay Roach also won for his direction of "Recount," the HBO dramatization of the Florida recount that ended the 2000 presidential election.
Though the theme of Emmys ceremony was a celebration of the golden age of television, that served only to highlight that much of the best work being done for the small screen today appears not on the networks but on cable.
Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men," said that the distinctions between network and cable mean little anymore. "If you did a show like 'L.A. Law' right now, I think it would end up on FX," he said in an interview on the red carpet. "There's nothing on my show that can't be shown on network television. It's just they're appealing to a different kind of audience. They have their audience and I have my audience, and I think it's nice to have something for everybody."
But Weiner, who also won an Emmy for outstanding writing of a drama series, noted that the commonality of the winners from cable series was their timeliness. "If I made the show eight years ago, I don't know if it would have resonated," he said after the ceremony.
David Shore, an executive producer of "House, M.D.," the top-rated Fox drama that also was a nominee for best drama series, said the disparities in audience rightly had little bearing on awards like the Emmys.
"There are awards for that; they're called ratings," Shore said. "There are really good shows on cable, and even if only 10 people are watching them, if they're good they should be recognized. The shows they've selected are excellent."
"The Colbert Report" won the award for best writing for a variety music or comedy program, while the Comedy Central show from which it was spawned, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," won for outstanding variety, music or comedy series.
6 months ago