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Host Neil Patrick Harris lit up the stage at the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night, making humorous but never intrusive remarks between awards and keeping the pace from pushing over three hours. It was a night of mostly quick acceptance speeches and wins that never seemed to come too far out from left field, but it was an also an evening of domination by perennial favorites.
It’s easy to complain about the Emmys. Year in and year out, they are a voting body that chooses to nominate and award the same people. This year marked the third win in a row for NBC’s “30 Rock” in the Best Comedy Series category, cementing it as a television dynasty, as well as the second win in a row for AMC’s “Mad Men” in the Best Drama Series category, the first time a show on a basic-cable channel has twice received the honor.
The Best Actor awards for Comedy and Drama were both repeat wins for Alec Baldwin of “30 Rock” and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” respectively. Glenn Close also won the Best Actress in a Drama award for the second year in a row for her work on “Damages.”
“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” won Best Variety Series for the seventh year in a row, while “The Amazing Race” swooped up Best Reality Competition Program for the seventh straight year.
Even so, there was room for first-time winners like Supporting Actress in a Comedy Kristin Chenoweth for ABC’s now canceled “Pushing Daisies” and Supporting Actor in a Drama Michael Emerson for that network’s “Lost.”
But if the name of the game appears to be monotony, is there even a point to these telecasts? Why go through the trouble of setting up a beautifully designed stage only to trumpet the same names?
As some of the winners mentioned throughout the evening, there are many who believe that we are watching “The Next Golden Age of Television.” While the shows on network television – NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX – are in a constant uphill battle for ratings, basic-cable channels like F/X and AMC have gone on the offensive, pioneering character-driven dramas meant to build slowly over an entire season, instead of jettisoning from plot to plot week after week.
HBO helped lead the charge with programs like “The Sopranos” ten years ago and continues to attract big names to meaty shows. Not to mention the premium cable channel has a virtual monopoly when it comes to made-for-TV movies; the win for its “Grey Gardens” on Sunday marks the sixteenth time in the last seventeen years the network has won the Best Movie Made for Television category.
In the 1950s, television was, among many other things, a training ground for aspiring craftsmen. Movie studios would pluck directors, cameramen, writers and editors based on their small screen work. Alfred Hitchcock would even use his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV crew when he shot “Psycho.”
Television is once again pushing itself as a serious medium, a place where producers like “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner can have thirteen hours a year to explore psychologically afflicted characters, or writers like Tina Fey can distill society’s biggest issues through a prism of workplace dysfunction over twenty-two episodes a season.
Merely reading the list of Emmy nominees from this year, let alone the winners, inspires the feeling that a pool of diverse and powerful talent are pushing the ever-widening seams of the television set with exhilarating vigor. That’s Entertainment.