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Image: Reality show hosts
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The five reality-show hosts who headlined the Emmy telecast -- Tom Bergeron, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest -- didn't help the show become any less boring than usual.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/22/2008 9:49:01 AM ET 2008-09-22T13:49:01

For a TV show that celebrates how fantastic television is, the Emmys sure manage to be an exceptionally boring TV show, even when they make history on their 60th anniversary.

Not even the presence of the five nominated reality TV show hosts could liven up the broadcast. In fact, after being introduced by Oprah, the five emcees sent the Emmys down the path of lameness with an opening that was later mocked by Jeremy Piven during his acceptance speech and by Don Rickles when he was presenting an award. That's because the hosts literally did nothing except talk about how they had nothing prepared.

It was an awkward, weak introduction from the first five nominees in a brand-new category that acknowledges television's ever-changing landscape. If they represent the new, their failed bit represents the old: an Emmy telecast that's just barely watchable, worth tuning in just to see who wins and who doesn't.

The actual Emmy winners themselves were a similarly awkward mix of old and new. The old was found in undeserved repeat winners (six-time winner "The Amazing Race," three-time winner Jeremy Piven), while the new came from cable, which made history for the first-ever nomination of basic cable series in the best drama category (AMC's breakout series "Mad Men" won for best drama, and also for best writing in a drama, giving creator Matthew Weiner the series' only two wins).

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Elsewhere on cable, Bryan Cranston's best actor in a drama win for AMC's "Breaking Bad" was definitely an upset in the category, and FX's "Damages" took both the best dramatic actress and best supporting dramatic actor awards. HBO's "John Adams" broke miniseries records with its 13 wins. On broadcast TV, NBC's "30 Rock" won for best comedy, best comedy writing, and best actress (Tina Fey) and supporting actor (Alec Baldwin).

The disparity between old and new is best illustrated in the two reality TV show awards presented last night. "The Amazing Race" won its sixth consecutive Emmy, and the award is at least its third undeserved Emmy, since the competition series won in 2006 for the year that included the awful family edition.

Slideshow: 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards

However, in the brand-new best reality show host category, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst won, defeating the hosts of two more popular shows, "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."

Although his show falls behind them in the ratings, Probst absolutely deserves the win, as he's the most versatile: he hosts the live reunion, provides color commentary during challenges, and moderates Tribal Council discussions, among other things.

Sometimes Emmy voters gravitate toward popularity or familiarity when they don't know what else to do, but in this case, they got it right.

That could be argued for many of the awards, such as in the acting categories where there was tough competition. Wins by nearly any of the nominees would have been deserved, so it's arguable that for the most part, Emmy voters got it right.

Telecast needs a revamp
However, the Emmy telecast did not get it right. In fact, it was dreadful, in part due to the reality show hosts, who ended up doing little more than reading badly written lines off teleprompters. Every one of them is far more entertaining on their respective shows.

Hiring the hosts to emcee the telecast was supposed to help it rebound from last year's second-worst ratings ever, but because they were so underutilized, they may have had the opposite effect. Even if more people tuned in, they're likely to skip next year after being bored for three straight hours.

There were moments of great comedy and entertainment, but those came from great comics and entertainers such as Ricky Gervais, Steve Martin, and even Jimmy Kimmel, who announced the best reality show host winner by flawlessly satirizing Ryan Seacrest's "American Idol" hosting, right down to the annoying pause for a commercial in the middle of the reveal. Besides that, though, the hosts didn't even really mock themselves or their respective shows, with the exception of a throwaway line or two.

Slideshow: Emmy Fashions

A show that wastes such talent is one that doesn't deserve its place on TV next to the quality programming that it honors.

What's clearly wrong with the Emmys is not the talent, but the production itself.

Due to the actors' strike, the Golden Globes were reduced to what essentially amounted to a press conference, the rote reading of nominees and winners. That lasted about 30 minutes, and yet it accomplished the same thing that the three-hour Emmys did.

Ultimately, the Emmy telecast offers quality that's dismally lower than nearly anything else on television. "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" deserve plenty of criticism, but even their worst episodes — typically their results shows, as they lack content and waste time — are more engaging and entertaining than the Emmys. Those episodes build drama and tension between the filler and fluff, which is why people tune in despite the time-wasting segments.

The Emmys need to dump their producers and directors, hiring a team who knows how to produce popular television. (That almost happened last year, when "American Idol" producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were hired to produce the Emmys, but later backed out.)

On stage to present an award Sunday night, Emmy-winner Cynthia Nixon said, "It just so happens that some of the very best work for any actor today is on television," and Emmy-winner Glynn Turman added, "that sort of quality television explains why some of our finest directors are making their mark in prime-time."

It is endlessly ironic that the Emmy telecast's writers can write lines about how good television is but fail to deliver good television themselves. Just as the Emmy awards can change to include reality TV, it's time for the telecast to evolve, too.

Andy Dehnart is a writer who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news. Find him on Facebook.

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