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Worthy wins, but plenty of duds at Emmys

Well, the Emmys got it half right.Trying to make up for some dreadful nomination omissions, the TV Academy gave the viewing public what they wanted in the big categories — “The Office” for best comedy and “24” as top drama.Not to take away from the accomplishments of “The Office,” but the competition was extremely weak this year. It was, far and away, the only comedy generating buzz
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Well, the Emmys got it half right.

Trying to make up for some dreadful nomination omissions, the TV Academy gave the viewing public what they wanted in the big categories — “The Office” for best comedy and “24” as top drama.

Not to take away from the accomplishments of “The Office,” but the competition was extremely weak this year. It was, far and away, the only comedy generating buzz following the end of last season. For all its ratings triumphs, there was little chatter about the excitement of how “Two and a Half Men” is starting up its fourth season in a few weeks.

Speaking of fan enthusiasm, not even “Grey’s Anatomy” got as high marks this past year as “24.” Wins for both the show and star Kiefer Sutherland could’ve been diagnosed by even those working feverishly at Seattle Grace Hospital. It was Sutherland’s first win after nine noms and certainly well deserved.

While those two shows ended the evening on a high note, the first few awards of the night had many shaking their heads. After Conan O’Brien used one of Billy Crystal’s favorite Oscar tricks and incorporated himself into several popular series — the scene with Jorge Garcia of “Lost” was priceless — the next few minutes leered into a “Oh, no, here we go again” flashback.

Mullally’s rambling speech didn’t help her cause, either, and she was the first of many to be “played off” as the orchestra raised its volume for every second over the allotted time limit she continued to speak.

After Alan Alda and Blythe Danner won the next two supporting actor and actress awards for their roles in “The West Wing” and “Huff,” respectively, an ugly trend had surfaced: Each of their shows has been canceled.

If the networks were hoping that winning an Emmy might spike the ratings of the actors’ respective shows, it wasn’t the way to start off the night, considering these series will never be on primetime again. So much for all this great publicity to help capture new viewers. Maybe it’ll tweak DVD sales. Probably not.

That “I can’t believe I won, even I wouldn’t have voted for me” moment came when Tony Shalhoub took home best comedy actor for USA’s “Monk.” Even he looked downright disgusted by the selection (and Charlie Sheen didn’t do all that much to feign his disappointment either). The only upside is that Shalhoub had brought his daughter and she was awfully proud of Pops.

Like he does on his late-night talker, O’Brien did a steady job entertaining and keeping the proceedings moving at a nice pace. When he takes over the “Tonight Show” desk in 2009 from Jay Leno, it’ll have been well-earned. This Emmys and the one four years ago proved that for all his boyish awkwardness, O’Brien is a polished pro. His comic timing is spot-on and audiences relish in his goofiness.

The two tributes of the night — to music icon Dick Clark and überproducer Aaron Spelling — had good intentions but failed to be memorable or particularly emotional.

Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2004, struggled with his speech but was determined and courageous to stand in front of not only the attendees at the Shrine Auditorium but millions watching at home. It was fitting that Simon Cowell, whose taste on the music scene today as a judge on “American Idol” can make or break a career, was able to introduce him.

But what executive thought following Clark’s speech with Barry Manilow singing the “American Bandstand” theme was a good idea?

Granted, if this was 1978, Manilow would be a rock-solid choice. Despite the fact that Manilow sells out the showroom at the Las Vegas Hilton, the Brooklyn-born pop artist didn’t do Clark any favors — and it was five minutes of the broadcast that could’ve been used for something far more entertaining.

As for Spelling, after a series of clips it seemed a touching idea to bring out the original “Charlie’s Angels” — until you actually saw them. To put it mildly, Farrah Fawcett hasn’t aged well and, following her famed appearance on David Letterman’s CBS show a while ago in which she was incoherent and disengaged from conversation, she doesn’t do herself any favors by speaking in front of crowds, either.

Kate Jackson spoke first but seemed to ramble on and on, when fewer sentences would’ve have given more impact. Save for Jaclyn Smith, who looks like she could star in a new version “Angels” again tomorrow, Spelling’s legacy wasn’t well-served here and those in the audience not old enough to remember shows such as “Love Boat,” “The Mod Squad”  and “Starsky and Hutch” will not realize what an impact he had on TV. ABC wasn’t known as Aaron’s Broadcasting Company for nothing.

Somehow, “Amazing Race” continues to dominate the reality category, winning for the fourth straight year. “American Idol” may be the juggernaut when it comes to ratings, but Emmy voters aren’t swept up by the phenomenon.

Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) and Julia-Louis Dreyfus were solid choices in the drama and comedy actress categories while HBO, surprising absolutely no one, dominated the movies with “Elizabeth” and “The Girl in the Café.”

Credit director Louis Horvitz with not allowing the broadcast to go past its allotted three-hour timeslot — and letting Bob Newhart, who was kiddingly threatened with being suffocated to death if the show went long, to live another day.

As for winners and losers, call “24” the people’s champion and “Grey’s Anatomy” the series that still has to earn its stripes with the Academy.

For Fox’s sake, lets hope Jack Bauer doesn’t end up with a brain injury and Dr. McDreamy as his physician, with scalpel in hand.

Stuart Levine is a senior editor at Daily Variety. You can reach him at stuart.levine@variety.com.