What Did Emmy Mean?

Wednesday, Sept. 25

It’s been a couple of days since the 54th Emmy telecast and geez, we need a reminder: Is the super-special Rachel Friends premiere this Thursday, or next?

O.K., so NBC went a wee bit overboard on the in-house bongo-slapping on Sunday, Sept. 22. But award shows, like football games, car bumpers and 6:30 p.m. national newscasts, are promotional opportunities mostly, and so NBC’s gratuitous home-field stacking was hardly surprising. Conan hosted, the Friends got to dole out the first award, Katie and Matt used the red-carpet precast to query every West Wing check-collector save the show’s dolly operator, there was a knowing camera shot of NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker, every commercial break had oodles of fall-season plugging ( Boomtown ! Boom-tastic!), and Jay Leno got to ramble out, Barbra Streisand–style, to deliver the final award of the night. Friends won, The West Wing won-golly, people, we love Allison Janney as much as anyone, but those who voted for her over Six Feet Under ‘s Rachel Griffiths are hereby sentenced to screen all 13 episodes of Inside Schwartz -and by the end of the night, it felt like an NBC advertiser cocktail at Radio City. When The Shield ‘s Michael Chiklis won as Best Actor in a Drama Series in one of the evening’s few surprises, you half-expected the announcer to identify him as “the former star of NBC’s Daddio .”

It was such a jolly-assed network affirmation that you almost forgot it wasn’t supposed to happen. Going into this year’s Emmys, the Big Consensus, just like last year’s Big Consensus-and the Big Consensus before that-was that cable, namely HBO, would continue to assert its haughty supremacy: With 93 nominations, HBO led all networks, and newcomer Six Feet Under ‘s 23 nominations were the most of any one series. The fact that The Sopranos had taken the year off-giving this year’s contest the dank air of the Jordan-less Rockets vs. Knicks N.B.A. finals in 1994-didn’t soften the prediction. HBO was going to collect, and network was going to feel bad about it.

There remained a little resistance. While NBC’s Emmy telecast properly acknowledged HBO, it didn’t bow to the premium-cable giant. The Sex and the City lasses got their due, but when HBO nominee (for Path to War ) Alec Baldwin started rhapsodizing to Matt Lauer about the cable net during the pre-awards telecast-he did it in that way that all HBO acolytes do, sounding a little Stepfordian and glazed, like they’ve watched the “It’s Not TV, It’s HBO” film strip one too many times-Mr. Baldwin was yanked off the air as if he’d shaken his pelvis with a cucumber in his shorts.

Then Six Feet Under got Color Purple ‘d, taking home six awards, only one (Best Director for creator Alan Ball) in a “major category,” the papers said the next day-a slight that surely made the Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman feel chafed about his Outstanding Main Title Theme Music statuette. Band of Brothers got a lot of awards, but the networks could take it-it wasn’t a boffo hit, plus Band was a Tom Hanks deal (and everybody loves Tom Hanks). Did HBO get a little comeuppance? Maybe, but there’s trouble interpreting an anti-cable message in an Emmycast where a chunk of the audience undoubtedly bailed from 9 to 10:30 p.m. for Tony Soprano and Larry David (and still made it back for a flush Jennifer Aniston waving to Braddy-Brad-Brad in the front row). Besides, who really thought Curb Your Enthusiasm ‘s brilliant chill could beat out service-humor like Friends , especially with Ms. Aniston strangely cast in a The Color of Money / Scent of a Woman career-adoration moment. As for Six Feet Under ‘s deathly performance, Mr. Ball’s freaky-deaky sexed-out last few episodes (Brenda’s threesome with the stoners, etc.) probably turned off voters who were ready to pull the trigger after the pilot.

Network presidents know that HBO’s grip on highbrow TV is here to stay. No network executive dares to try being a pure “quality television” executive these days-they all play high-low/high-low, trying to placate pay-cable defectors with smart stuff, but also wooing the cheap seats with junky cotton candy. Thus CBS does CSI and Big Brother . Thus ABC does Ted Koppel and Jimmy Kimmel. NBC’s Jeff Zucker is the master of the high-low formula (and where’d he learn it? TV news!), scoring with both The West Wing as well as cheese like Fear Factor , a hit that no preachy Aaron Sorkin character would peep at. Really, for all the whining about cable’s ability to run wild with sex, violence and dirty language, it’s the networks that have truly embraced craven TV-it’s the hole that pay TV has ceded, and the opening the networks are successfully exploiting.

But it’s always a bit of a stretch to try and use the Emmys to divine television’s future. Or common sense, period: The Emmy folks violated international law by giving Sting an award (over New York doll Jon Stewart!). While Mr. Chiklis’ win was promising-how many people went home from the Shrine Auditorium that night and tried to find “what did he say? FX?” on the cable box?-it remains to be seen how many executives will want to swim in television’s deeper end. Awards are nice, but after three hours of hypish Emmy overload, the only safe prediction seems like this one: Everybody will be talking about this Thursday’s shocking ER premiere.

Tonight on NBC, in the third season premiere of Ed , Danny DeVito shows up. Now if only Andy Kaufman could show up, then we’d really have something. [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Thursday, Sept. 26

Speaking of Ed, we were on the phone with Ed and Late Show with David Letterman executive producer Rob Burnett on Sept. 24 when lo-the other telly line rang. It was CBS president Leslie Moonves, calling to congratulate Mr. Burnett and the Late Show team on their fifth consecutive Emmy for Variety, Music or Comedy Series-and to point out the network’s whopping 10 to 11 p.m. ratings performance with the premiere of CSI: Miami.

“King of CBS right there,” Mr. Burnett said when he got off the phone with Mr. Moonves. “Picked up the phone and called himself.”

Relations between the Late Show and CBS haven’t been warm, of course, and one reason was the Letterman camp’s dissatisfaction with the network’s 10 p.m. performance. Mr. Burnett believes the network’s weak performance at that hour (and in 11 p.m. local newscasts) has unduly hurt the Late Show ‘s own ratings showing; improving the 10 p.m. hour became an issue during Mr. Letterman’s tumultuous negotiations with CBS earlier this year.

But CSI: Miami ‘s whopper debut (nearly 23 million people watched) went a long way towards improving feelings. Propped by the impressive 10 p.m. display, The Late Show ‘s rating was up about 16 per cent from its usual Monday-night performance last year. “I’m very happy about it,” Mr. Burnett said.

As for the Emmy win, Mr. Burnett couldn’t low-key it: He was pleased.

“I’d be lying if I were to say it doesn’t mean anything to us to win Emmys-it certainly does,” he said. “It’s not something we spend a lot of time thinking about, but it is a nice affirmation that the show is quality.

“Mostly what I think is remarkable, really, is the idea that Dave, 20 years into the run, is an Emmy contender. I think normally this is the part of a career where you are politely led to the side of the room to let other people dance.”

One thing that the Late Show did not do this year-and it was conspicuous-was to provide the Emmys with a joke reel for its writing nomination. The Variety/Musical/Comedy writing nominations have become among the best moments of the Emmy telecast, as shows almost always submit a satirical film to illustrate their nominated staffers. This year’s winner, Saturday Night Live , submitted a film in which a Star Wars figure stood in for each writer (Lorne Michaels got to be Darth Vader); the Daily Show submitted a reel of corporate troublemakers, with embattled Adelphia executive John Rigas playing the part of anchor man Jon Stewart.

Mr. Burnett liked this year’s efforts, too, but said the Late Show just didn’t feel up to doing a joke reel for this Emmycast. One reason was that the Late Show had done them so often.

“I believe we may have invented that little technique,” Mr. Burnett said. “We have just done so, so many of them the last couple of years that when I saw all of the other shows doing them, it started to feel a little tired to me. The joke felt a little tired.”

But the other reason, Mr. Burnett said, was that one of the nominated Late Show episodes was the somber Sept. 17, 2001, program-Mr. Letterman’s first after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“I’m not at all saying there was anything inappropriate about all the other shows doing the joke; they were all fine and great,” Mr. Burnett said. “But we came right after that and we thought, ‘Let’s do it straight.’ Last year we did it straight as well, because that was so close to 9/11.

“Maybe next year if we have a good idea, we will do it again,” he said.

Tonight, Mr. Burnett turns his Nielsen box on and off 1,000 times to try and prop up the ratings for another big CBS 10 p.m. premiere, Without a Trace. [WCBS, 2, 10 p.m.]

Friday, Sept. 27

& New York loves to swoop in and swipe up the awards shows. We got the Grammys back, and we let it be known that we’d like the Oscars (whatever happened with that, anyway?)-why not fair Emmy? It’s safe to say that entertainment television’s capital is in Los Angeles, but it’s not like New York doesn’t have its TV productions, as anyone who’s had their Audi 4000 towed for a critical Law & Order: SVU scene can attest.

So what about it, Mr. Mayor? Bring the Emmys to the land of Tony Soprano, Carrie Bradshaw and Lorne Michaels?

Chirp, chirp.

A press representative for Mr. Bloomberg didn’t return a call, but a rep for the City Council did show some enthusiasm for the idea of the Emmys in New York. Still, the City Council rep said there wasn’t any “long-term strategy for attracting” the TV awards here, and that initiating such an effort would be in the Mayor’s bailiwick.

Question: Can we send an awards show out of New York?

Tonight on ABC, the time-travel comedy That Was Then . Like Big, but small. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Saturday, Sept. 28

Tonight on NBC, the Emmy-snubbed Spy TV , starring Ali Landry. [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Sept. 29

Tonight on ABC, the he’s-technically-an-adult-so-why-not? biopic Prince William . Good to see the world’s kept a “polite distance” following the tragic death of poor Will’s mum. [WABC, 7, 7 p.m.]

Monday, Sept. 30

Comedy Central’s first movie, Porn ‘n’ Chicken -about those aggravating rascals from Yale who cooked up a phony controversy with their alleged “porn club”-is due to make its debut Oct. 13. We asked Observer intern and recent Yale graduate Noelle Hancock-who once visited the Porn ‘n’ Chicken set, but wasn’t “in the club,” as they say-to have a look. Here’s what she says:

Porn ‘n’ Chicken is basically accurate: Like they did at Yale, the students in the film begin gathering each week to watch porn and eat fried chicken. After realizing that all they’re being left with was a bunch of bones, they searched for something more gratifying. They somewhat jokingly decide to make a porno. The press gets wind of it, and after finding that there basically is no story, they create a story nevertheless.

What really resonates in Porn ‘n’ Chicken is the character Hutch-an accurate spokesman for much of the Yale population. Hutch introduces himself by saying, “Some would call me a joyless, anal-retentive tool. I prefer the term ‘well-rounded.'” It’s all too familiar as he rushes around, making mental notes to “organize his organizer” and obsessing over being accepted to law school. Eventually he opens the rejection letter and collapses on the floor next to the mailboxes, moaning, “No!!! No!!!!!” In the middle of the film (while high), Hutch realizes that he is free to do whatever he wants with his life rather than what society, parents and friends expect of him. This is a nice change-most of us don’t figure this out until after we graduate.

Watch for Yale graduate and actual P&C alum Jamie Ponsoldt making a cameo-humping an inflatable doll.

-Noelle Hancock

Well, there you go! It don’t cost $30,000 for nothing! Tonight on The Daily Show , Emmy-robbed Jon Stewart sings his favorite cuts from The Dream of the Blue Turtles . [COM, 45, 11 p.m.]

Tuesday, Oct. 1

Tonight on ABC, 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter . Just the fact that the title survived focus-grouping is victory enough. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.] What Did Emmy Mean?