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Emmys of Last Resort

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In Television, There’s Nothing Like Playing To Your Weaknesses

Reality programming hasn’t killed television yet, but after last night’s 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, butchered beyond belief by ABC-TV, those non-scripted ciphers pretty much slammed the coffin lid shut on what used to be one of the medium’s stalwart and entertaining traditions.

Just in case you were expecting snappy one-liners, witheringly on-target political satire or touching emotion oozing from deserving stars, you had to be sadly disappointed.

The Emmy Awards Show 2008 came hurtling out of the most troubled year in television history officially DOA. Pray that next year’s winners and losers will be notified by mass email, thus providing some modicum of quiet dignity for their hard work and long hours.

How bad was this year’s show? If Washington spent every ounce of gold that’s left in the coffers at Fort Knox to rescue the worst awards show in the long annals of television, the money would be wasted down to the last penny. Lehman Brothers and AIG crammed more entertainment value in their annual reports than did ABC’s weak effort last night.

If you thought the ungainly Miss America Pageant had succumbed to a shabby, embarrassing fate the last few years, bounced from network TV to cable TV to a smoke-choked, low budget lounge act in Vegas, that was humane compared to what television did to itself last night.

An immutable law of the television universe was once again re-established on the final summer night of 2008:

Reality program hosts, minus their familiar sets and sleazy participants and over-hyped contests, cannot carry on a decent conversation among themselves, much less handle an unwieldy three-hours plus of not-particularly-suspenseful awards-giving.

If the TV programs being recognized were as bad as the Emmy Show that honored them this year, people might suddenly turn to besieging the libraries and re-discovering their reading muscles. It was that bad. It was worse.

Then again, I would love to meet the network numbskulls who gambled an entire Sunday night, plus all those lost ratings points, that a rank combination of Jeff Probst (Survivor), Heidi Klum (Project Runway), Ryan Seacrest (American Idol), Tom Bergeron (Dancing with the Stars) and Howie Mandel (Deal or No Deal) – as co-hosts — could somehow take the place of a professional master of ceremonies, one with the ability to tell a joke, offer topical commentary, or even articulate the heritage of television. Those five did for narcissism what serial killer Gary Heidnick did for cannibalism.

From Los Angeles to the East Coast, television commentators and insiders were as one in their broad rejection of any quality elements in last nights’ debacle. One critic noted that those five no talent hosts, left to their own devices, apparently without scripts or idiot-cards, were “unwatchable.” Another confessed that five minutes worth of their “banter” seemed to go on for 20 years.

If anything, the weight of morning-after evaluations was too easy on five of the most annoying people in the reality TV ghetto and on an appalling disaster of a an awards show.

Sunday night’s competition in the Philadelphia TV market mainly consisted of a very bad pro football game, abundant re-runs and dueling episodes of Masterpiece Theatre, including a Victorian mystery starring Dr. Who’s best companion, Rose, the real life Billie Piper. HBO gave us another incomprehensible installment of True Blood. All I remember is that this time the HBO vampires had plastic slipcovers on their furniture.

But they may all end up beating the 2008 Emmy Awards – based entirely on Neilson ratings merit. The early numbers indicate that this year’s Emmys broke all previous records for low viewership, even falling below Fox’s 12.3 million from over a decade ago. It’s understandable, because you had to watch the Emmys this year like it was homework with a quiz on Monday morning.

The New York Post may have had the best idea of all – instead of bothering to recap what may have been the most disappointing Emmy Show of all time, the tabloid mocked the whole process and created its own category of Emmys for outstanding performances that should have been given out. If only the show had been that amusing.

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