The Emmys are supposed to be television’s biggest night. We can argue about who deserved to be nominated (Andrew Scott for Fleabag) and who deserved to win (Andrew Scott for Fleabag), but at the end of the day, the Emmys are a way for the TV industry to celebrate television like the Oscars are a way for the film industry to celebrate movies. But if you tuned in to last night’s broadcast on Fox, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out why you should care about any of the nominees unless you had already watched them. Instead of sending its viewers out to watch these acclaimed shows in an era of Peak TV, Fox was more concerned with plugging The Masked Singer and dully moving through the categories.
One of the night’s earliest winners was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which won for Best Supporting Actor (Tony Shalhoub) and Best Supporting Actress (Alex Borstein). The comedy series has been a critical success for Amazon Studios, but aside from the show picking up two trophies last night, could you tell me why I should watch it? What’s the show about? The only enthusiasm any winner could generate was from people who were already fans looking for the validation of an Emmy win to cement a show’s greatness.
Some may argue that it’s not the job of the Emmys to celebrate nominees—you either know these shows or you don’t. Furthermore, there’s not enough time in the show to properly highlight all the nominees (but there is time for Ken Jeong to do an excruciating bit). But I would counter that even when a show just won an award, no one knew why they should care. For example, at one point, Chernobyl won an Emmy and they chose to play “Shake It Off” by Florence + The Machine for some reason while commentator and comedian Thomas Lennon made bad jokes during the walk-up to the stage. At any point in that process, do you learn why you should care about Chernobyl? At best, in the framing of Fox’s broadcast, Chernobyl looked like just a prestige drama picking up some hardware, and at worst, it looked like an exploiting a tragedy to win awards as no one seemed to recognize the gravity of the show’s subject matter.
This indifference permeated the entire broadcast, and in an era of Peak TV, television felt small. There were a few nods to shows that ended where Gotham was put in the same package as The Big Bang Theory, but some of the most laudatory bits were reserved for ad spots, like FX airing an ad celebrating its diverse and acclaimed lineup of dramas and comedies. At no point in Fox’s broadcast did you feel like there was a love of television beyond when Normal Lear was on stage to announce an award and got a standing ovation. The room recognized the importance of what Lear contributed to the medium, but that sense of history was largely absent from Fox’s broadcast. Instead, the 2019 Emmys were largely, “Here are some nominees, one wins an award, rinse, repeat.”
The general lethargy could also be attributed to the lack of a host. Since the Oscars got away with going hostless earlier this year, the Emmys decided to follow suit, but it made the show feel even more airless and empty. While hosting is a generally thankless gig, a good host knows how to keep the mood lively, and make both the audience in the theater and at home feel good about what they’re watching. I’m not sure if a host could have solved all of the 2019 Emmys problems, but it probably have helped given the show a tone instead of its schizophrenic opening that swung from killing Homer Simpson to Anthony Anderson swiping trophies to Bryan Cranston suddenly trying to give the show some gravitas.
Granted, these days you don’t really have to work to get people to care about television because the number of options is overwhelming. But the Emmys broadcast should generate some level of excitement and recognition beyond awards that were going to be handed out anyway. One of the low points of the show was when Fleabag was described as a show “about a sex addict,” and it’s just not that. That would be like called Game of Thrones “a show about incest”, and yeah, that’s in there, but I wouldn’t say that’s what the show is “about.” The casual indifference to the nominees and television as a whole made the 2019 Emmys feel perfunctory, a rote ceremony that we watch because it’s there. Television’s biggest night felt small and while maybe a few more people may now give Fleabag a shot, it won’t be because of anything the ceremony’s producers did.
In case you missed it, here’s the full rundown of last night’s winners. You will not find the audience among them.