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TCA Awards Presentation: The Makers and Watchers of Quality TV Share the Love
July 20, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, the 24th Annual Television Critics Association awards were handed out in a memorable, enjoyable ceremony that isn't televised -- and is all the better, and rowdier, for it.


Paul Giamatti, an early winner for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Drama, set the playful tone by calling his demanding title role in HBO's John Adams -- and I quote -- "a nutbuster." Repeatedly.

Tina Fey, who won for Individual Achievement in Comedy for NBC's 30 Rock, self-deprecatingly joked about her show's low ratings, thanking the critics for helping to make 30 Rock "the most successful cable show on broadcast television."


She added, with mock enthusiasm: "It's a great time to be in broadcast television! It's exciting! It's like being in vaudeville in the Sixties!"

And actor John Slattery, one of several people dispatched by generous Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner to collect awards for his wonderful period AMC drama, noted dryly how happy he was "that the show's message of drinking and smoking and whoring has resonated with the TCA."

Lots of things, actually, resonated with the TCA, the winners and the invited guests Saturday night. The evening's guest hosts were The Smothers Brothers, who opened with a well-received mini-set -- I had the honor of introducing them -- that reminded everyone of Tom and Dick's crucial place in TV history.


(One of my favorite immediate dispatches from the event came from John Kubicek of BuddyTV, who wrote: "Opening the ceremony were the Smothers Brothers, the classic comedy duo that raised serious issues and fought the status quo back in the 1960s. As someone born well after their time, I now find myself eagerly awaiting the eminent release of their variety series on DVD. Pioneers for most of the political comedy we see on cable and network late night shows, the Smothers Brothers blazed the trail for being politically incorrect." Read his full article here.)

(Another is from Bill Brioux of the delightful blog TV Feeds My Family, whose account of the ceremony, and enjoyment of the Smothers Brothers, you can read here. I hope to have Bill contributing to TV WORTH WATCHING soon, so stay tuned.)

It was a night for putting things in context, and for celebrating both TV excellence and the appreciation and support of that excellence. Tom Hanks, one of the executive producers of John Adams, showed up to accept the award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials, and also to joke about the parade of former TCA presidents who were presenting many of the awards.

"How many former presidents ARE there?" Hanks asked. "I'm counting this down, it looks like there are at least three per table. What did you serve, two two-week terms?"

David Simon, whose brilliant HBO series The Wire won the coveted Heritage Award, noticed who WASN'T in attendance -- and tied it in to his show's final season, which focused on the slow demise of newspapers.

"I really worry because of what is happening in newspapers," he said. "There's a lot of faces that are missing here at the TCA this year, and I have a feeling that that trend is going to continue. And I really worry about who's going to do the hard job of social and cultural criticism. So it's worrisome."

It's true that several of the presenters -- Susan Young, Diane Werts and myself, to name three -- all worked for print publications at last year's TCA Awards, and now were identified by their respective websites. (TV WORTH WATCHING got a lot of shout-outs. Great product placement!)

But it's also true that it was a happy, energizing ceremony, presided over by TCA President Dave Walker. It featured funny, well-written introductions, and witty acceptance speeches with no band rushing them to finish. As noted by Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- yes, another former TCA president -- there's no band, period.

MadMen-men-2.jpgExcept that this group, on this night, is a band of brothers, and sisters, all reveling in, rewarding and nurturing TV excellence. Mad Men won Program of the Year, New Program of the Year, and Outstanding Achievement in Drama. 30 Rock, in addition to Fey's award, also won for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy. PBS's outstanding The War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, won for Outstanding Achievement in News & Information, and the same network's playful WordGirl won for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming.

And finally, NBC's Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels received the Career Achievement Award, thanking critics for his career itself -- which, as Jicha noted in his intro, gave birth to dozens of TV and movie star careers, including multiple 30 Rock winner Tina Fey. More degrees of separation: Hanks has been a frequent guest host on Saturday Night Live, and SNL itself carries on the spirit launched in prime time by The Smothers Brothers.

It all came together beautifully, in a night that moved briskly and -- despite all the other star-studded evening events presented at press tour -- turned out to be the biggest and best of all. Thanks, Dave Walker, for letting me be part of it.




Patrick said:

I would just like to express my joy knowing that intelligent, witty television is receiving the recognition it deserves. It seems like most shows appeal to the lowest common denominator, but the shows you have listed -- 30 Rock, John Adams,The Wire,... -- remind us that good writing, acting, and execution can create enjoyable and captivating entertainment. I just have one question; where was Pushing Daisies? (Great question: It was a finalist, and a deserved one, but overrun in the end by "Mad Men." -- David B.)

Comment posted on July 21, 2008 9:35 AM

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