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George Carlin gets another shot at Emmy respect

It's enough to provoke a string of expletives from any devout George Carlin admirer: The comedian never won an Emmy Award in his lifetime despite a half-dozen nominations.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's enough to provoke a string of expletives from any devout George Carlin admirer: The comedian never won an Emmy Award in his lifetime despite a half-dozen nominations.

TV academy voters have the chance to make indirect amends, and gladden his daughter's heart, by honoring "George Carlin: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize."

"My father was someone who did change the face of television with his HBO specials," Kelly Carlin McCall said. "He was a man who, over almost 20 years, made television exciting to watch. I think it's too bad they didn't get to honor him that way."

Last year's Emmy loss was "particularly poignant" because it followed his death of heart failure by three months, she said.

Carlin, a multiple Grammy-winner for his comedy albums, shook up television with 14 standup specials that skewered hypocrisy in language and social mores. He was 71 when he died, his razor-sharp satire unblunted.

TV academy voters missed what appeared to be the last opportunity to honor him when "George Carlin: It's Bad for Ya!" lost to "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project."

An Emmy for the Mark Twain Prize ceremony would belong the producers of the tribute, which was announced days before Carlin's death and held last November. It was the first time the Twain honor was presented posthumously.

Among its competitors in the grab-bag category of outstanding special class program: the extravagant, jaw-dropping opening of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics; the Tony and Academy Award ceremonies; and a Carnegie Hall tribute to composer Leonard Bernstein.

The "weird" categories in which Carlin's specials have competed are part of the problem, his daughter said, with voters comparing "apples and orange" among the nominees.

"Please, it's just crazy," Carlin McCall said of the her father's tribute being pitted against the Olympic opener.

Not that the iconoclast was pining for the winged trophy.

"He always saw the awards show thing as a bit of a game. I mean, he's George Carlin; he's going to buy into that stuff?" she asked, rhetorically.

But he was "absolutely thrilled" by the prestigious Twain honor and appreciated being recognized for his work, especially later in life, Carlin McCall said.

During the Kennedy Center show, Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers and others saluted Carlin for inspiring them in comedy and in helping to push the boundaries of free speech. Dennis Leary said he grew up in a church that issued lists of banned works, including Carlin's. That immediately induced Leary and fellow altar boys to pool their money so they could hear "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" for themselves.

"That was when I realized you could make money for saying things my dad used to say when he was fixing the car," Leary said during the tribute.

The special class program award will be announced during the Sept. 12 creative arts ceremony, hosted by Kathy Griffin and airing Sept. 18 as an E! Entertainment special. The main Emmy ceremony with host Neil Patrick Harris will air live Sept. 20 on CBS.

Producers of the Carlin special have campaigned in trade publication ads, including one that read, "7 words George Carlin never got to say on television: `Thank you all for this wonderful Emmy.'"

Whatever the outcome, Carlin will get the final say. "Last Words," his autobiography, is to be released in November by the Simon & Schuster imprint Free Press.


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