A view of the 2013 Emmy Awards — through a Jewish lens
1. Tradition, tradition, tradition.
2. Identity crisis
From host Neil Patrick Harris’s opening monologue about the changing television industry to a 3-hour telecast that looked and felt like the Tony Awards, TV is deeply unsure of itself. The entire Emmy telecast transpired under a veil of self-consciousness, with sporadic musical numbers that added to the confusion (“The Number in the Middle of the Show” was one such dopey attempt at self-ridicule). Nevertheless, producers tried hard to put a positive spin on an insecure time: “These are remarkable times for television,” Harris said. “The content has never been more varied, the viewing [has] never been [sic] easier. You can now watch TV on your TV, on your laptop, on your mobile device, on a watch, on google glass[es]...”
Still, for traditionalists, things seem so out of whack that even Kevin Spacey made an in-character cameo as Congressman Frank Underwood from “House of Cards” to call a group of current and former Emmy hosts “blithering buffoons.” In coded but metaphorical language, Underwood confessed it was almost “too easy” to get the former hosts -- Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien, who all made appearances -- to sabotage Harris (read: Netflix unnerves Network TV).
3. Many a mourner’s Kaddish
Emmy night was filled with remembrances of people passed. In addition to broadcasting the annual list of names of the deceased, special guest presenters offered personal tributes to the stars, including Edie Falco for James Gandolfini, Robin Williams for Jonathan Winters, Rob Reiner for “All in the Family’s” Jean Stapleton and Jane Lynch for “Glee’s” Cory Monteith.
4. The power of As It Is Written
In one of the evening’s bigger surprises, Jeff Daniels took home the Emmy for lead actor for his portrayal of Will McAvoy on HBO’s “The Newsroom” -- but he gave all the credit to writer/creator Aaron Sorkin. “The great American playwright Lanford Wilson said, ‘Whatever you do with your career, make it matter, make it count.’ Aaron Sorkin makes it matter and makes it count.” Daniels’s homage to Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist, was the highbrow reference of the evening, and an acknowledgment that storytelling is not just showmanship but sustenance.
5. In praise of spiritual balance
Upon accepting her second consecutive award for playing Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s “Homeland,” actress Claire Danes thanked her husband, actor Hugh Dancy for “making me so whole and happy so I can be so entirely unhappy in the world of make-believe.”
6. A healthy dose of Chutzpah
Upon accepting his acting award for playing Liberace in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” Michael Douglas surprised the audience with some suggestive homoeroticism. “This is a two-hander,” Douglas said, as he graciously acknowledged his co-star Matt Damon, who played Liberace’s lover in the movie. “The only reason I’m standing here is because of you,” he added. “So, do you want the bottom or the top?”
When “Behind the Candelabra” uber-producer Jerry Weintraub accepted the Emmy for best miniseries or movie he added to the evening’s chutzpah factor with a quip on his success: “People always ask me, ‘How do you do all this?’” Weintraub said. “I don’t do it all. Everybody else does it all and I get all the credit.”
7. A healthy dose of humility
When Steve Levitan accepted the fourth consecutive Emmy award for “Modern Family,” he said that all the success still feels “surreal.” “None of us grew up feeling like winners,” he began. “So thank you to the bullies, the popular kids, to the gym teachers who taunted us, rejected us and made fun of the way we ran. Without you, we never would have gone into comedy.”
8. Embracing the vicissitudes of life
When Don Cheadle curated an homage to television (and U.S.) history, he channeled the Torah's message of transformation. After the famous CBS News clip in which Walter Cronkite announced President John F. Kennedy’s death, he talked about the journey from darkness to light, the experience of grief to healing. After national tragedy and trauma, "dark clouds lifted" with the arrival of The Beatles, who told us “it was OK to experience joy again.”
“Two emotionally charged events forever linked in our memories,” Cheadle said, adding that, “fifty years later, they underscore the immediacy of TV, and its tremendous impact on our society. The boxes are thinner, the screens are flatter and more portable, but television’s power to engage, inform and unite continues to have a profound purpose -- as we remember the past, celebrate the present and anticipate our future.”