Why The Emmys Are Following the Oscars Lead — And Why This May Be A Good Model for Award Shows In General
I’ll be the first to admit: when the Academy Awards decided to have a ceremony without a host, I was concerned. I’m sure fans of a certain age had memories of Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White in their head. But those doubts disappeared about halfway through Queen’s second number.
Even the most generous of reviewers must admit it’s been hard to watch the Oscars the best decade. No matter how gifted the emcee is — whether its Ellen DeGeneres or Chris Rock or Jimmy Kimmel, no matter how hard they try to make their material work, they were unable to puncture the balloon of self-importance that the Academy inevitably surrounds its awards shows with. They do their level best, but they just can’t seem to hold their natural level of comedy with the often insane level of self-importance these shows just keep to handle.
All of that was absent this February. All of the problems that the Academy had getting there seemed easier to handle without a host. The presenters were more light-hearted, they seemed to be having more fun without having some ridiculous introduction, and it showed for a lot of the recipients as well. All of the ridiculous montages for film is the universal language nonsense, all of the unnecessary speeches about causes, frankly, all the pretension was gone. It helped immensely, of course, that there was genuine suspense about what film was going to win; we genuinely didn’t know until Julia Roberts announced Green Book as Best Picture. And for the first time, in I don’t know how long, I was happy with the results of the show as much as I enjoyed the show. You could see the surprise in the reviews that came out, and it didn’t hurt that ratings, which have been on a downward trajectory all decade, went up by nearly twelve percent. (Having nominated pictures like Black Panther and A Star is Born didn’t hurt either.)
This is a roundabout way of saying that I actually think that the Emmys going without a host is a good idea as well. The Emmys hasn’t had quite the same problems as the Oscars the past decade — though admittedly the fact that they seem to give the same awards to the same people year after year hasn’t helped — but it’s definitely there. Some have done well — Stephen Colbert and Andy Samberg have been doing a good job in particular — but a lot of time, the Emmys can be even more arduous to go through than the Oscars. If Michael Che and Colin Jost can’t make the Emmys funny, something’s wrong. Will getting rid of the emcee solve the problem?
It’s not the same issue as the Oscars, of course. Television has been generally a lot more interesting than a lot of the films that have come out over the past decade, and TV famously doesn’t hold firm to the same patterns that the Oscars do. They’ve been doing a much better job giving awards to people of color than the Oscars have over the past decade, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of the Oscar-winning actors this years had a sizable amount of success in TV before they came here. Viola Davis and Regina King would almost certainly have never been considered for Oscars without the Emmys.
What I do think would be the better habit would be, without a host, the Emmys would concentrate less on stupid self-congratulation, and make it about the shows, stupid. I’d actually like to see something like the Oscars, where they pay tribute to some of the nominated series. Someone should be talking up Ozark and The Good Place. And maybe without a hosts monologue, they’ll let some of the winners talk longer than 45 seconds. I’d have been more than willing to go without Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen last year, if I could’ve heard the writers for The Americans have a two minute speech.
More to the point, I think there’s a certain logic in awards shows going hostless. The Golden Globes went without a host for more than a decade, and I never saw anybody complain about it. The SAG awards only started having a host last year, and they were often far more entertaining that a lot of other award shows.
What is a host of an awards shows job, anyway? They have to stroke the egos of the people attending, and mock them just enough so that the people at home are entertained. It’s a precarious balance, and none of the hosts seem able to maintain it. (Well, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can, but those women can make anything funny.). The Oscars, almost by blind luck managed to solve this Gordian knot with a slash of their swords. It’s been a long time since I’ve said this about anything, but maybe it’s a good thing that the Emmys is going to take a page from the Oscars this year. Just no Game of Thrones dance numbers, please.