Four months later than originally scheduled due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards finally showed up Monday night. Fast-paced, packed with reunions, tributes and a Best Talk Show win by Trevor Noah for a Daily Show he exited in late 2022, the Anthony Anderson-hosted ceremony was skillfully solid and eminently predictable.
Ambitious, the Jesse Collins Entertainment-produced endeavor had a lot of good moments in a compressed award season that has already left most of us dizzy. To that end, in the paper cut of criticism, it wouldn’t have hurt if the Emmys had taken their foot off the pedal a bit and given the Fox-broadcasted show some time to breathe.
More from Deadline
Overall, as my colleague Joe Utichi said tonight on Deadline’s Emmy live blog: “This is an Emmy-worthy Emmys.” At the same time, and through no fault of their own, the nearly three-hour-long 2023 Emmys were a little bit of a gleaming afterthought even before the show even started this MLK Day in downtown Los Angeles. Coming off the resuscitated Golden Globes on January 7 and the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday with big wins for the final season of Succession, The Bear’s first season, and Netflix’s limited series Beef, Monday night’s Emmy was thoroughly anticlimactic.
In fact, with Succession, The Bear and Beef snagging most of the major Emmy categories, one of the biggest surprises of a night that showcased the breadth and scope of the TV talent had to be how few significant remarks there were about politics. With the exception of statements by Last Week Tonight With John Oliver scribe Sofia Manfredi thanking the Writers Guild for holding strong, it was surprising how unmentioned were the labor actions that bitterly divided Hollywood last year and shut down almost all production.
RELATED: Emmys Wins By Program & Network
Of the latter, I get how no one wants to scratch that scab right now – too soon.
Of the former, well, that’s a bit complicated, isn’t it? I mean, at the very end of the ceremony, Succession creator Jesse Armstrong did make a near-passing joke about fixing “partisan news coverage [that] gets entwined with divisive right-wing politics” after four seasons of the HBO Best Drama Series. The man knows how to read a room, even a very large room.
The TV Academy’s 75 touchstone TV moments had the potential to touch on the major political events of the last near-century as captured on camera. Though doubtful that the infamous rise of an Emmy-nominated reality TV host to the White House in 2016 were among them, the Emmys showed just a snippet of the horrors of 9/11 and other moments. Picked as one of those 75 touchstone moments, a portion of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was given center stage over the end credits on the celebration of what would have been the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s 95th birthday.
Another place in the show for the fragmented world outside the Peacock Theater to be brought up, it was the presentation of the 2023 Governors Award to GLAAD. Accepting the award from Colman Domingo and Hannah Waddington, the LGBTQ organization’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis had pointed words about the power of story, representation and the “ballot box.”
Yet, besides brief comments from winners RuPaul and Niecy Nash-Betts during their acceptance speeches and a “Happy Birthday Dr. King” from Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage handing out the Best Drama Series award, it was startling how little was said onstage in an election year and on the night of the Iowa caucuses – and, no, that Rupert Murdoch quip by Armstrong earlier in the night doesn’t count.
Certainly, there were a lot of politics around Monday night. They just really weren’t on TV’s big night.
Counterprogramming on all the cable newsers, the deep-freezing GOP Iowa caucuses quickly a blowout for Donald Trump. Unless there is an unexpected upset or indictment, tonight’s first vote of 2024 pretty much set the stage for a Trump rematch with Joe Biden in November. Add to the mix the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thrashing the Philadelphia Eagles at the same time as the Emmys in an NFC Wild Card round on ABC (plus ESPN and ESPN+).
The Emmys were originally scheduled to air i nSeptember, with nominations unveiled on July 12 last year, but were kicked down the calendar due to the five-month-long strikes. Risking being as outdated as the presidency of Gerald Ford and shifted to the Bermuda Triangle of a Monday, it may have been better for the TV Academy to take a pass on 2023 and pick up the 76th Emmys in September of this year. But the show must go, and the network with little actual drama on it nowadays knuckled down the multi-nominated Black-ish star and We Are Family host Anderson.
It was a good choice by Fox and the producers. A very good choice, actually.
Anderson skipped the usual monologue of nominee shout-outs and ribbing celebrities to confidently slide in and out of his own professional (multi-Emmy nominated, never won) and personal small-screen history. Too many award shows have become unwatchable in recent years in part for treating their hosts like warm props reading form letters instead of real people. Anderson was very much Anthony Anderson, and that gave the show an identity it might have lacked otherwise.
Kicking off with a Mr. Anderson’s Neighborhood set-up that soon shifted from an Eddie Murphy tribute skit to a TVLand trip down memory lane that had a Norman Lear tribute in there somewhere, this Emmys played to its medium’s history and the artifice of the whole thing. Out of the horror story that way too many award shows are, it was a promising and heartfelt start.
Soon after the versatile Anderson warned everyone his mother (his We Are Family co-host) would be cutting long speeches short, Christina Applegate’s appearance onstage and returning to her old Married …With Children stomping ground prompted a well-deserved standing ovation. The applause was only reinforced by past Emmy winner Applegate’s presentation of the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and praising Carol Burnett’s stint handing out the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award.
Nominated in the category, Applegate lost out to predicted winner Quinta Brunson of Abbott Elementary. Brunson made history as the first Black woman to clinch the category since The Jeffersons’ Isabel Sanford in 1981, and the very first Black woman to win in the category who both created and writes for her own show.
No disrespect ever to the talented Brunson or any of the winners tonight, but it was at that point the night took on its anticipated trajectory in most categories. A path, despite the throwback tone fueling this racing Primetime Emmys with Sopranos, Martin, Cheers, Grey’s Anatomy, Ally McBeal and All in the Family reunions and tributes, that became a process of time and inevitability.
Not that it was all been-there, done-that.
There was that joyous speech by Nash-Betts for her Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story win. There was The Jeffersons alum Marla Gibbs as a presenter and pay-equity advocate, and a genuinely funny Mean Girls remake wisecrack in the SNL Weekend Update reunion with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were real moments that only live TV can bring.
But, let’s be honest, for the most part, the 2023 Emmys were about as surprising as Trump winning the Iowa caucuses. You could see the results from a mile away, even through the snowstorms that were battering great swaths of the country. As Succession, The Bear and Beef cleaned up, there was only the scale of the win to be determined.
Then again, especially with Succession now truly over and out of the running, we’re going to do this Emmy jamboree once more this year in September. By then we may have some real surprises and much more mention of the ballot box. Let’s have some more Anthony Anderson and his mama, too.
Best of Deadline