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Emmy Night in Real Time: From 'Mr. Robot' to 'OJ'
September 19, 2016  | By Alex Strachan

0:01 - Jimmy Kimmel has the three-hour Emmycast off to a brisk start, giving viewers hope that maybe, just maybe, this thing will come in on time. Unlike, you know, that other awards show — the one with the diversity problem.

0:02 - In one of Kimmel’s signature pre-taped gags, he’s trying to hitch a ride to the Emmys so he can make the show on time, but his rides keep falling through. A carpool karaoke bit with James Corden runs off the rails, but in a good way. Corden kicks him out of the car, and in an equally clever followup, he tries to hitch a ride from President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), faithful adviser Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) nattering in her ear. “Oh, Congressman,” she says warmly (“He’s not a congressman, he’s a comedian,” Gary mumbles in her ear), and it all goes downhill from there. Figuratively and literally. “We’re so pleased you’re hosting the Academy Awards tonight.” (It’s the Emmys,” Gary mumbles in her ear.” Ugh, she says, and rolls up the window. Kicked out of an Uber car by Jeb Bush — tone fair, his comic timing ain’t bad) he hitches a ride to the theater on the back of a dragon, this after praying to ‘Oh heavenly Oprah.’ Trust me — this is much better than it sounds, and a distinct improvement on other recent pre-Emmy gag reels.

0:06 - “If your show doesn’t have a dragon or a white Ford Bronco in it, go home now,” Jimmy Kimmel tells the audience, to a ripple of polite laughter. They have no idea how prescient those words will prove.

0:07 - Sarah Paulson wins the evening’s first “plus one” award, Kimmel continues. Paulson, who played Marcia Clark in The People v. OJ Simpson, brought Marcia Clark with her to the Emmys. “This must be very strange for you,” he tells Clark. “I mean, are you rooting for OJ to win this time?” Okay, a little close to the bone, but Clark takes it in stride. These are early moments yet, but it’s clear Kimmel is on his game: He’s not going to let anything pass him by, not in the all-important show-opening monologue, anyway.

0:08 - Kimmel again. “Tonight is the night we come together to celebrate all the amazing shows we’ll never get around to watching. On television.”  These are clever, witty lines, but the laughter from industry insiders is, um, how to put it exactly, a tad tepid perhaps.

0:09 - “Here in Hollywood the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.”

0:10 - "Television brings people together," Kimmel continues, "but television can also tear us apart. If it wasn’t for television, would Donald Trump be running for president? No, he would be at home right now quietly rubbing up against his wife Malaria [sic] while she pretends to be asleep. Many have asked, who is to blame for Donald Trump, the Donald Trump phenomenon? And I’ll tell you who, because he’s sitting right there. That’s right, that guy. Mark Burnett, the man who brought us Celebrity Apprentice. Thanks to Mark Burnett we don’t have to watch reality shows anymore, because we’re living in one. Thank you, Mark. Thank you for coming all the way from England to tear us all apart with your intricate plot. It worked.” Uh-oh. Those network executives are looking distinctly nervous right about now. Time to hand out some silverware.

0:11 - Louie Anderson wins the first award of the evening, supporting actor in a comedy, for playing a woman, in FX’s Baskets. “Mom!” he cries. “We did it! I have not always been a very good man, but I play one hell of a woman.” Ten minutes in, it’s already a good night for FX. Alrighty, then, on with the show.

0:23 - That was one long commercial break. This is the dirty little secret of network awards shows, including the Emmys and — especially — the Oscars. The show isn’t that long. Not really. Edit out the commercials and these things come in at little more than two hours.

0:24 - Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari win the comedy writing Emmy for the Netflix series Master of None. More Asians working in Hollywood, an ebullient Yang says.”Asian parents out there, if you could do me a favor, just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good. It’s good.” “I just want say,” Ansari says, and the music cuts him off and plays him offstage. “Wow,” Kimmel says, without missing beat. “Now there’s almost too much diversity in this show.”

0:27 - Kate McKinnon is a surprise winner for supporting actress in a comedy, for her various bit parts on Saturday Night Live. She will become the first winner of the evening to thank Hillary Clinton in her speech. Relax, Fox News followers: She played Clinton opposite the real Clinton in an SNL sketch earlier this year. “Jesus Christ,” a flustered McKinnon says, becoming possibly the first person to blurt it out — the first I can recall anyway — in a live TV broadcast. “Thank you to the academy so much. Good sentence.”

0:28 - In a beautiful, heartfelt moment, in a thread that will be picked up later in the evening by an emotional Julia Louis-Dreyfus, McKinnon finishes by saying, “On a personal note, thank you to my beautiful and hilarious mother and sister, and to my father, who’s not with us anymore but he made me start watching SNL when I was 12.”

0:36 - Jill Soloway wins the comedy directing award for the second year in a row, for the Amazon series Transparent. “People ask me if it’s hard to be a director and I tell them, ‘No, life is very hard,” Solway says. “Being a good partner, being a good mother, being a good person is hard. Being a director is so effing easy. I just get to make my dreams come true. It’s a privilege…. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes…. Topple the patriarchy!”

0:38 - Kimmel won’t let that one go by. “I’m trying to figure out if ‘Topple the patriarchy’ is a good thing for me or not,’” he says, to a burst of raucous laughter in the auditorium. “I don't think it is.”

0:39 - Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame recently won a Peabody, Kimmel notes in introducing Key onstage,“so he’s automatically better than everyone in this room. He’s actually grossed out to be with us here tonight, so please welcome Keegan-Michael Key.”

0:40 - Key hands Louis-Dreyfus the eighth Emmy of her career, for lead actress in a comedy, for Veep. Louis-Dreyfus is ridiculously talented, behind the camera as well as in front; it’s hard to square the circle between Selina Meyer on Veep and Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, but there it is. In a prepared but nonetheless disarming speech,  Louis-Dreyfus apologizes for the present state of politics in the U.S., as exemplified by an HBO comedy about a dysfunctional White House — it’s supposed to be fiction, people! — that started out as a political satire but now feels like a sobering documentary. (Sounds like something someone might have written not so long ago on this website.) 

But then, suddenly, trembling with emotion, she mentions her father, William Louis-Dreyfus, who passed away just days ago. “I’m so glad he liked me,” she said, overcome with emotion. “Because his opinion was the one that really mattered.”

0:43 - Jeffrey Tambor, no slouch himself, pays tribute to his late colleague and dear friend Garry Shandling. “He was happy with his poor vision,” Tambor said, keeping a straight face, “because he said it meant he could date anybody.”

0:45 - TV doesn’t always handle tributes well, but Tambor’s tribute to Handling was a study in grace and dignity. It’s too bad then that my local affiliate, the Canadian network CTV, slam-cut a commercial for hair products right on top of what should have been a quiet fade-to-black. This is routine for broadcasters in my local area.

0:49 - And that was another long commercial break, too.

0:51 - Referring to an earlier bit with Kimmel, “What they take away….,” Tambor says, as he returns to the stage to collect the lead comedy actor Emmy for Transparent, for the second year running. “May I be very, very, very clear about something,” he says. “There is no ‘best’ actor.”

0:57 - The Voice wins its second consecutive Emmy for reality competition, and even though I favor The Amazing Race myself — it’s a personal thing — The Voice has provided me with some memorable memories. So it’s all good. Mark Burnett gamely tries to make light of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jimmy Kimmel, in an allusion to Kimmel’s one-liner earlier in the evening, but while it’s a good try, I’m reminded of the famous Bill Maher line: Leave comedy to the professionals.

0:58 - Kimmel ain’t going to take this lying down. “How can there be that many producers for this show?” he says, at what seems like 35 people follow Burnett offstage.

1:00 - Kimmel again: “The show’s getting long and I know a lot of you haven’t eaten since Labor Day.” Time for a sandwich break and then everyone’s favorite part of the show, Kimmel says: The accountants.

1:07 - The limited series are up next, but in a year that gave us Fargo, The Night Manager, Roots,  and The People v. OJ Simpson, I’m not entirely comfortable with the word “limited.” Or “mini,” for that matter. These so-called miniseries are the envy of many if not all feature films. People v OJ wins the writing award, and it doesn’t take a sage to know this will be the first of many.

1:10 - American Crime, not to be confused with American Crime Story, wins the lead actress award for Regina King. This was a long time coming — King’s fine work goes back to the oh-so-fine Southland.

1:14 - People v OJ Simpson was nominated for three of the six available directing slots, but Susanne Bier wins for The Night Manager. I’m not unhappy because People v. OJ, Night Manager, and Fargo were uniformly good, across the board; this category was the very definition of win-win.

1:21 - There seems something strangely appropriate in Empire’s Terrence Howard giving the supporting actor award to Sterling K. Brown for People v. OJ Simpson. That was one hell of a performance. “A lot of you may not have known who I was,” Brown says, with disarming honesty, “but you checked the box anyway and that makes me very, very happy.”

1:26 - Sarah Paulson. It just had to be.

1:34 - Courtney B. Vance. Ditto.

1:35 - To all those would-be actors out there, watching and listening to Courtney B. Vance’s acceptance speech, this is how you stand and deliver, how you enunciate clearly, speak firmly and clearly, pronounce your ‘’t”s and hit your ”h”s, how you perform as if you’re onstage, in a live theater in front of a live audience, instead of on a small TV screen or shoehorned into a smartphone video screen. Vance’s speech is . . . Cochrane-esque.

1:36 - Jimmy Kimmel: “He was so great in that. I have to believe that Johnnie Cochrane is somewhere, smiling up at us tonight.” Pause. “Too soon?”

1:37 - Sherlock: The Abominable Bride wins outstanding movie made for television, which is disorienting, because Sherlock has nearly always been a limited series as opposed to a one-off TV movie. It doesn’t take anything away from the quality, though — Sherlock and fellow nominee Luther were truly special.

1:39 - The People v. OJ Simpson ran near the front of the Emmy nominations pack with 22 mentions, but it just won the big one — outstanding limited series. It’s too bad, then, that producer-creator Ryan Murphy is played off the stage by music, so the producers can squeeze in the next commercial break.

1:45 - And that was another long commercial break.

1:46 - Aziz Ansari, played off by music earlier in the evening before he had a chance to say anything, is determined to get his two-cents worth in, now that he’s returned to the stage, this time as a presenter. It’s an election year, Aziz notes, so the Emmys should immediately deport all Muslim and Hispanic nominees from the ceremony. Immediately. “Wow, this would be so much easier if we were at the Oscars,” he says, to a smattering applause and the very definition of nervous laughter. “Mom, Dad, I know I just thanked you but you need to be escorted out right now. I’m so sorry.”

1:51 - The British are coming, the British are coming. John Oliver has just won the variety-talk series award, the award previously reserved for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, for Last Week Tonight. Oliver’s win comes hot on the heels of Steven Moffat’s win for producing Sherlock, Susanne Bier’s win for directing The Night Manager and Mark Burnett’s win for producing The Voice. “Impeccably white moment onstage,” Oliver quips. Hey, now! “Please play me off,” he tells the music people. “I’ve never had a chance to do this before.”

1:53 - “I was wondering when they were going to play him off,” Kimmel says, pretending to be irritated at losing in his category. “Isn’t ‘talk show’ supposed to be kind of an American thing?” Perhaps he wasn’t just pretending.

1:54 - Matt Damon, suddenly appearing from nowhere, to Jimmy Kimmel: “I missed the last category. Did you win?” Um, that would be a ‘no.’ “That makes a lot of sense,” Damon continues, “but you must be really bummed out.

2:00 - That was another long commercial break.

2:03 - Keegan-Michael Key and Michael Peele win the Emmy for variety sketch series for Key & Peele, and it’s a popular win judging from the reaction. There’s a special irony in them being played offstage by music since, if anyone knows how to keep a scene moving along, it’s Key and Peele.

2:07 - Comedy, TV talent competitions, limited series and variety shows are out of the way and the evening is about to close with the drama awards. First up, a writing win — David Benioff and Dan Weiss — for Game of Thrones. Just six years ago, hardly anyone knew who they were. Now, they’re the writer-creators of television’s buzz show of the moment. Even that, though, is not enough to shield them from being played offstage by music — so that the producers can go to a commercial for, wait for it, Apple Music. (In my market, anyway.)

2:11 - That was another long commercial break.

2:17 - I enjoyed virtually every moment of Downton Abbey but, for me, Maggie Smith winning her third supporting actress drama Emmy — she won in both 2011 and 2012 — sounds the first false note of the evening. Smith has never been on hand to accept the award, and she isn’t in the audience tonight. She had scant few scenes in Abbey’s farewell season, and hardly any of those scenes were memorable. Or, if they were memorable, I can’t remember them. Smith’s Emmy wins over the years are a throwback to a past era in Emmy voting, when, burdened by the inferiority complex of movies vs. the small screen, Emmy voters handed out awards to famous names simply for being famous names. On the one hand, it doesn’t matter really whether Smith won another Emmy on this night or not, but it’s hard not to look at the other nominees in the category, many of them first-timers — Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey,  Constance Zimmer — and not wonder if they weren't more deserving somehow. On the other hand, Downton Abbey can retire into the annals of TV history knowing that it won at least one Emmy in its swan-song season. Just not in the category it probably deserved.

2:18 - “No, no, no, no, no,” Jimmy Kimmel says, walking onstage and grabbing Smith’s trophy. “We’re not mailing this to her. Maggie, if you want this, it will be in the lost and found.”

2:19 - Game of Thrones (UK director Miguel Sapochnik) has just won the directing Emmy, to go with the Emmy Thrones won for writing.

2:25 - That was another long commercial break.

2:28 - The memorial reel is always a tricky high-wire act for the prestigious industry award shows. It’s not something the MTV Video Music Awards have to worry about, or the People’s Choice Awards, or any number of celebrity get-togethers. The In Memoriam segment is fraught with peril. Too much, and it risks being mawkish. Too little, and it risks being disrespectful. This year’s edition, introduced by Henry Winkler’s personal eulogy to TV legend Garry Marshall, segued into a soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah by YouTube folk-singer and one-time American Idol contestant Tori Kelly. It was a lovely moment, and the audience thankfully withheld applause until the very end, rather than putting the departed through a final humiliation of popularity-contest-by-volume-of-individual-performance. My only complaint is that Hallelujah, though a beautiful song, is overused. It was probably time to give it a respectful farewell around the time Aaron Sorkin used it in The West Wing.

2:37 - Dear lord, that felt like the longest commercial break yet. The ads aren’t very good, either, but then that’s my home market.

2:38 - Allison Janney, who exudes class with virtually every breath she takes, is presenting the award for lead actor in a drama in what might be the most competitive field since the year The West Wing squared off against The Sopranos. And what a delightful surprise it is, in the most delightful way, that rank outsider Remi Malek (right, top) of the whipsaw-smart Mr, Robot, takes the grand prize. Everything that has happened to Mr. Robot in the past 18 months is truly special. “Please tell me you’re seeing this, too,” a clearly stunned Malek says, when he finally takes the stage. “I play a young man who is, I think, like so many of us, profoundly alienated. And the unfortunate thing is, I’m not sure how many of us would want to hang out with a guy like Elliot [Malek’s character]. But I want to honor the Elliots, right, because there’s a little bit of Elliot in all of us, isn’t there?”

2:42 - Maggie Smith’s win seems like a very long time ago: Remi Malek has set the tone. And so, in what would have seemed inconceivable just three years ago, when Tatiana Maslany was not even nominated for her playing multiple roles in Orphan Black, she wins — in a drama actress field that includes Keri Russell, Taraji P. Henson and past winners Viola Davis and Claire Danes. Maslany is shaking so much, she almost drops her smartphone on which she’s written her speech. “I feel so lucky to be on a show that puts women at the center. . . . Thank you for this incredible dream job.“

2:49 - I can be forgiven for taking an almost perverse pleasure in the fact that the job of handing out the Emmy for best comedy series has fallen on Larry David … a brilliant comedy actor and writer who owes his entire career to that fact that he hates TV. Or at least pretends to hate it. “Look at this!” he cries. “I’m presenting! I’m a presenter! They called me a few weeks ago and asked me to do this. I’d never presented before, and I’m grossly incompetent at most things. But I’m thinking, how hard can it be here? It requires three skills. You’ve got to be able to open an envelope, read a few words and, most importantly, act like you’re interested. . . . Nobody feigns interest like me.”

2:50 - Top that, producers of Veep. Because you’ve just won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series, and now you have to follow Larry David at the mic. Veep director-producer David Mandel cuts to the quick: “Holy crap!”

2:54 - It’s almost over, as NYPD Blue survivors Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits name the winner of outstanding drama series: Game of Thrones. No surprise there.

For once, though, predictable doesn’t necessary mean stale or tired.

It’s Game of Thrones’ second consecutive win, but it won’t win next year. Thrones’ increasingly complicated production schedule means new episodes won’t be eligible for next year’s awards but rather the following year. That means all bets are off for the 2017 Emmy for outstanding drama series. There won’t be any Maggie Smith moments at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.

2:59 - Yes, it was a long, long show. But let the record note that it ended on time.

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