It took a pandemic for Hollywood to embrace the dictates of "We need fun."
The credo pronounced by host Kimmel—"What's happening is not important but it’s fun. And we need fun."—at the top of the show was just about the polar opposite of the guiding principle of every awards show for the past decade. From the Oscars to the MTV Awards, when you've turned on a kudos fest of late, the hosts have all but opened with the declaration that "What you're about to see is not going to be a whole lot of fun, but we've decided that it's important for you sit through five hours of it."
Which has predictably sent viewers running not just from the awards circuit, but from Hollywood itself.
What worse advertisement could you have for an industry and its products, and the people behind it, than these multi-hour pageants of fantastically rich people wallowing in self-regard and swooning to the sound of their own virtue signaling?
So last night's Emmys were far from perfect: Even in this format they are still fantastically too long, unthinkably too long. Way too many categories, with extra nominees in each—why don't they just read out the IMBD page for complete production over the past 12 months?
Seriously, though, has anyone involved in these seen what entertainment looks like in 2020? Three seconds is an eternity. I defy you to sit through two 30-second TikTok videos without swiping onward like a death row prisoner lunging for freedom when a guard leaves the cell door unlocked.
A straight minute these days looking at one screen feels like Der Ring des Nibelungen.
And they expect anyone to sit through three hours of speeches? This is becoming pathological, even if we weren't supposed to be entertainers.
So, yes, still much too long. Fantastically too long. But beyond that, it turned out that the Zoom format acted as a brilliant pomposity blocker. There's only so fatuous and full of yourself one can be staring into your own webcam, all alone without an auditorium giving thunderous applause to the writers of this year's best TV movie or whatever.
Sure, there were goofy and clunky bits—such is the nature of variety-show comedy—but taking a sledgehammer to the giant arena of self-love is such a long overdue act. It felt like such a breath of fresh air that it's suddenly impossible to imagine how you go back to that.
The pandemic reveals the things that had long since stopped working, that were surviving on inertia and habit but had long since taken leave of their mission.
The political conventions and the awards shows are the two most obvious beached whales of national culture, long past the point where they could help even themselves, their stench clearing the sands around them. These giant bloated pageants of self-congratulation by the rich and famous are just not going to fly anymore. The door has closed, for now, on the aspirational moment of celebritydom. The best those shows can hope for is a lot of mixed up envelopes and pratfalls by stars walking up to the stage to give the people something to laugh at.
The Kimmel Emmys took a wrecking ball to the whole thing, long overdue, and as a result felt fresh, direct, funny, and likable. A nice example for all Hollywood.
As for the winners, a couple of contradictory thoughts. On the dramatic front, it shows that HBO is still HBO. Everyone else can try, but no one has mastered the template for Big Production Value TV drama that gets the media classes chattering like HBO. That one network could create and produce Succession, Watchmen, and Euphoria in one year is pretty extraordinary now that you think about, given how different those series are from each other.
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The one note however: All those shows were incubated in the Plepler era, pre-Stankey shake-up, pre-Max directives. Whether the machinery still exists to produce the next round of the same remains TBD.
As for comedy, the best comedy category now seems to be the TV academy's "You gotta watch this" recommender zone, with no juggernaut like Veep on the scene to dominate year after year. A shame that the show they recommended this year has ended its run, but nice to see Schitt's rewarded.
And it also shows that Netflix is still Netflix. It might strike out going head to head with HBO on the big prestige front, but when it comes to the library, to the browsing room function, they are a sector unto themselves. Schitt's may have been produced by Pop TV and the CBC, but Netflix is where the world saw it and now will keep seeing its six-season catalog.
The Service may not have earned those awards the old-fashioned way, but now they've got them. As Major General Stanley says in Pirates of Penzance, showing visitors around the chapel of his newly purchased estate, "Frederic, in this chapel are ancestors: You cannot deny that. With the estate, I bought the chapel and its contents. I don't know whose ancestors they were, but I know whose ancestors they are."
A good night for Hollywood. Just keep that wrecking ball swinging.
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HBO may win awards but how useful is having the tv that the chattering classes write about really ? You noted in previous letters that prestige tv has a very uncertain footprint, yes The Sopranos, the Wire eventually but everybody who watched Mad man was a culture writer and their families. Yes the wins increase the brand names of the services but one not much remarked effect of the streaming wars is that all the services know exactly how many people watch each show , the Nielsen ratings were only an extrapolation of a sample of viewers with a margin of error of ?. I think we are seeing with certain cancellations ( high fidelity comes to mind) that the impact of good reviews is a lot less even within the media class is a lot less than previously thought, and it was not considered high. Oh and good luck to anybody who thinks that Succession is going to break out and become a powerhouse, British style wry black humour is a tough sell to people who read novels for fun, look at the bestselling novels list and see how many literary novels are successful. Then remember that an unsuccessful show has to get ten times( at least) that number in viewers each episode to only be considered a failure rather than a debacle. I say this as someone who admired a lot of things in the first season but could not care enough to watch the second.