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Conan is unexciting, but surprises save show

Monday, September 23, 2002

Oh, Conan. We had such high hopes for you. But maybe your off-kilter humor works better on “Late Night” than in prime time.

Conan O'Brien, host of the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, clowns with a guitar during the show. O'Brien proved to be an adequate but less than stellar host. (Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press)

Emmy host Conan O’Brien was adequate, but he didn’t shake up the tired, stale Emmys as much as tend to them.

The opening taped skit, where he woke in the home of MTV’s “The Osbournes,” was stale. The creepy clan already did its shtick on MTV awards shows.

Other jokes were more honestly Conan -- “I cannot tell you how proud I am to be the Emmys’ first Catholic host. ... I want to thank NBC for having the courage to defy the powerful Lutheran mafia” -- but received a tepid response from celebrities gathered in the Shrine Auditorium.

His oddball humor just didn’t go over all that well, particularly following last year’s host, the droll Ellen DeGeneres, who seemed particularly well-suited to hosting the Emmys and returned briefly as a presenter last night.

O’Brien’s inside Hollywood jokes were better -- more focused, sharper -- and won applause.

“A lot of people are excited about NBC’s new fall shows, especially people starring on NBC’s midseason replacements.”

He melded his own Conanesque style with inside jabs most successfully when he spoke of a network mandate that he develop a love interest during the Emmy telecast. Romantic music began to play, and O’Brien started making eyes at Jennifer Aniston, who responded to his yearnings, while her husband, Brad Pitt, glared.

Even with the middling success of O’Brien’s hosting, the Emmy telecast was slightly less moribund than usual because of all the first-time winners.

Inviting O’Brien to host was a noble attempt to shake things up and the set, filled with retro television sets, provided an upbeat, apropos atmosphere. The clips of the nominees, with commentary by those involved in each show, was a step up from the average clip reel. But the Emmy show still needs work.

Here are our annual awards:

Preshow blunder award: Poor Matt Lauer kept forgetting he wasn’t on the “Today” show, saying “Good morning” to the stars who stopped by in the later afternoon heat to chat. Given his daily chores, that was understandable.

But there was no excuse for Joan Rivers (Is there ever?), who on E!, called “West Wing” star Dule Hill, Julie -- or maybe it was Juliet -- Hill. Rivers said he was nominated for supporting actress.

Hooray for the first timers award: Whether it was Ray Romano or Jennifer Aniston or Michael Chiklis, it was a pleasure to see some new faces accepting Emmy trophies.

It was especially gratifying to see “Friends” win after all these years, but how to explain “The West Wing,” which won for its lackluster third season? Did the votes for nominees “Six Feet Under” and “24” cancel each other out?

Thanks for heartfelt thanks award: A lot of the winner’s speeches felt genuine, none more than actor Michael Chiklis, star of “The Shield.”

“We all have a little place inside of us where we secretly allow ourselves to dream of a moment like this,” he said, “and it doesn’t happen without a lot of people to help you dream along the way.”

Enough already award: Another requisite standing ovation for former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani? Is that really necessary, especially when it’s 11:05 p.m. and this show is running late?

Trying-to-have-it-both-ways-award: Even as O’Brien made industry jokes and the telecast’s director cut to shots of network executives that most of the audience couldn’t identify, most of the lines written for the presenters was typical, obvious awards show patter.

Weird, weird, weird: A reel of celebrity endorsements before Oprah Winfrey received the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award was just bizarre. At times it felt like a spoof as it jumped from the serious to the humorous, from perpetually self-impressed Tom Cruise (“You are inspiring. You inspire me”) to Robin Williams (“I like your show because you talk about men who love chickens and the women who baste them”).

And for an awards show devoted to television, why the need to recruit movie stars. Are TV celebs not good enough when honoring Oprah, a television star herself?

There’s celebrating today in Somerset award: David Frankel, director of ABC’s miniseries about the rescue of the nine Quecreek miners that’s now filming in Somerset, was among the eight directors who shared the award for directing for a miniseries/movie/dramatic special for HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”

Most clever pairing of presenters: Somebody was thinking when they put together Martin Sheen, who plays the President of the United States on “The West Wing” and Dennis Hasybert, who plays the President of the United States on “24.”

Most sincere moment: The losing supporting actor nominees from “The West Wing” were genuinely overjoyed when John Spencer won, jumping out of their seats, expressing glee and adulation.

“Wow, look at my compadres,” Spencer said. “They are so happy for me, and that says it all about ‘The West Wing.’”

Most insincere moment: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences CEO Bryce Zabel presented “Alias” star Jennifer Garner with an ATAS membership card.

“You are the Academy, welcome home,” Zabel said, handing her a tiny card.

“Wow, this is so cool,” Garner replied, mustering all her acting skills.

It almost seemed like a parody of a bad awards show moment. Turned out it was just a bad awards show moment.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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