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Emmys The Day After: Good Wins, Bad Hosts, Dull Presenters, Nice Surprise
September 22, 2008  | By David Bianculli

tom-smothers-ovation.jpgSince I'm on record already as having my Smothers Brothers book among my front-burner occupations these days, I'll say here what seems too personal to note anywhere else.

When Tommy Smothers was given his honorary Emmy last night, in recognition of his having unduly removed himself from the list of winning writers on the final 1968-69 season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, that was my favorite moment of the entire night.

I was so happy Tom got a standing ovation, and so pleased that Steve Martin, who got his first break writing for the Smothers Brothers back then, introduced him. But I was most pleased that, in 2008 as in 1968, Tom Smothers was one of the few people standing up in prime time to say something, when those around him were either avoiding controversy or being cut off as soon as they began speaking.


Tom spoke of the stupidity of pursuing peace only through violence, and other things that, in essence, he was saying in his prime-time variety show 40 years ago -- until he was fired. Good for him then. Good for him now. And hey -- it makes for a nifty coda for the book, too.

Just in time.

As for the rest of the Emmys, I loved Ricky Gervais' drawn-out bit with a stone-faced Steve Carell, and also loved Jon Stewart's funny (and, like Tom Smothers' speech, bravely political) bit with prune-eating Stephen Colbert. The rest? Not so much... Most presenters were dull, and the reality-show tag-team host approach? Didn't work at all.

Most awards went to really good performers and shows, though, so the only complaint there rests with the audience. As I point out on today's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NBC's 30 Rock swept the major comedy series categories, yet it didn't even rank in the Top 100 for the entire season -- and ended up ranked lower than, sigh, ABC's Cavemen.

When people band together to make TV that good, and deliver performances so wonderful -- I'm talking about 30 Rock now, not Cavemen -- it's not their fault if the show doesn't find an audience.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves...




Jim said:

And The Wire now belongs to the ages, never having won an Emmy. Are there any other nominations for the best TV series never to have won an Emmy?

Comment posted on September 22, 2008 4:33 PM

Robert said:

It was indeed great to see Tommy Smothers finally receive the Emmy he deserved back in 1968 last night - and even more appropriate that it happened the same week that Time Life's Season 3 DVD set of the "Comedy Hour" was released (which was well worth the wait, and also timely in that your liner notes mentions how Tommy withdrew his name from the Emmys that year in light of the CBS firing). Easily the highlight of the awards... (Hey, and MY highlight was the fact that someone's actually read my liner notes. Thanks, Robert -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 22, 2008 4:38 PM

Phillip R. Crabb said:

Looking forward to your book anticipating some discovery as to what the Brothers did in the 40 years since the television show. As a 10-year old, I remember that I would lie on the floor and enjoy the show but have reservations about reacting to the humor. I wasn't used to this, as it wasn't a 'safe' show like I was used to in the vein of Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason.

I remember my folks, whom I'm pretty sure voted for Goldwater, watching every week as well, but again furrowing their eyebrows at the same jokes I wanted to laugh at. It was somewhat contradictory, a comedy show that made many in their audience uncomfortable. It was a concept that was light-years ahead of its time.

As I get older, I seem to find myself slipping more to the right, but still enjoy the Daily Show and the Colbert Report immensely. It's no discovery that their lineage goes directly back to the Smothers Brothers, although now occurring in an era that's categorically more forgiving of a 'controversial' show.

But after the Smothers Brothers left the air, it seems like they fell off the face of the earth. I remember seeing accounts of Dick and his racing cars. The most I knew about Tom was that he was a savant with a yo-yo. It's only been recently that I saw notices of their touring as a team again. It's somewhat astonishing that such a controversial team kind of fell out of controversy.

So, in anticipation of your new book explaining some of these things, I'll suggest what Tom Smothers did on one of their shows when the network didn't allow them to advertise a periodical that did a story on them, and have everyone go to the bookstore and take a 'Look.' (Yeah, that was Tom all the way. And he and Dick tour a LOT, so look for them at a theater near you. They still put on a delightful show. -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 22, 2008 6:23 PM

Eileen said:

Aside from the classy intro by Steve Martin, and equally classy comments by Tom Smothers, the entire Emmys show was dreadful.

Reality TV needs their own awards show a la the Daytime Emmys. They shouldn't even be on the same stage as a Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close, etc.

The best and biggest surprise of the evening was the well deserved win by Bryan Cranston. After years of perfect comedy on Malcolm (not to mention King of Queens and Seinfeld), it's good to see him finally win an Emmy. His speech was perfect -- thanking his sister, wife and daughter, and ending with "God Bless". Who says nice guys finish last...

Comment posted on September 23, 2008 10:49 AM

Cathy said:

Tom Smothers was a class act then and still is now. We need more people (not just entertainers) like him.

On another note, it was amusing at lunch yesterday "debriefing" on the emmys. 99% of my lunch mates had never heard of Damages or Mad Men. Sad for them, but happy for me.

Comment posted on September 23, 2008 10:49 AM

Poppa150 said:

Is this the reviewer I heard lamenting that the director of the "Adams" series was cut off when he began his remarks about "articulate" people?

Jeesus Keerist! When will those adolescent twerps ever get over their love affair with painting the President as stupid because he hasn't got what they consider to be a Golden Tongue?

It goes without saying that public speaking can be either an artifice crafted after many years of practice or a natural bent, but these "qualities" have nothing at all to do with the policy issues presented a chief of state.

To hop up and down on that entirely flimsy "gotcha" is so tiresome and so yesterday that I'd have cut him off simply because his comments were so lame. (Yes, this is that reviewer -- and I'll point out, as respectfully as possible, that nowhere in the WRITER Kirk Ellis' acceptance speech did he mention Bush's name, or even the presidency, but merely inferred that political discourse today was woefully less articulate than in olden days. You're the one that made that leap -- but I won't criticize you for it. -- David B.)

Comment posted on September 23, 2008 2:49 PM
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