All but devoid of laughs, the 60th anniversary edition of the Emmys unraveled tortuously Sunday, a string of comic misfires and awkward acceptances dragging on before “Mad Men” and “30 Rock” were named best shows.
It went wrong right from an opening monologue that wasn't.
Instead of a central host, this year's show had five emcees – the nominees for outstanding reality/competition host: Tom Bergeron of “Dancing With the Stars,” Heidi Klum of “Project Runway,” Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal,” Jeff Probst of “Survivor” and Ryan Seacrest of “American Idol.” (The Emmy later went to Probst.)
They conspired on a smug, ad-lib bit whose creative dynamic seemed to be bluffing through the fact they hadn't done their homework. They pretended that after a series of meetings, no one could come up with anything entertaining for the opener.
It was, unfortunately, a convincing performance, capped by William Shatner of “Boston Legal” and Bergeron pulling a tear-away tuxedo off Klum to reveal a shimmering hot pants outfit.
That was the first flat note of a night that would grind on for three more mirthless hours.Jeremy Piven of “Entourage,” accepting an Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy, referred to the opening dud while accepting his award. “What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes? What would happen? Oh wait, that was the opener.”
Glenn Close of “Damages” and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” were named best dramatic actors and “The Amazing Race” was named best reality show for the sixth time.
HBO's “John Adams” won for best miniseries and its stars, Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, were named best actors in the miniseries category.
But the night belonged to “30 Rock,” the second year in a row it was named best comedy. It brought an Emmy to Alec Baldwin as lead actor, and two to Tina Fey: as lead actress and comedy writer.
“I thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done,” said Fey. “That is what all parents should do.”
If there was an award for off-kilter moments, Tommy Smothers would have snagged it. After accepting an achievement award for writing because he was left off the nominations in 1968 for the controversial “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” Smothers started talking about freedom of speech, then got lost at the end. It did not seem to be the gently addled character he made a living playing, but a genuine flummoxed moment.
“There's nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action,” he said. Finally, settling on the word “truth” as his point, he said, “Truth is what you get other people to believe.”
Steve Martin was one of the few who broke through the laugh barrier.
“Being here tonight is a big thrill for me because as a kid I use to run home from school and get all dressed up and play 60th anniversary Emmy Awards,” he cracked.
Another moment that worked came from singer Josh Groban, who in a single number referenced the theme songs from 60 shows – everything from “The Simpsons” to “The Carol Burnett Show.” At one point he got accompaniment from Ed McMahon, who offered his trademark “Heeeere's Johnny!” to the medley. Groban even managed to whistle a few bars from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
When veteran comic Don Rickles was met with tepid laughs, he pointed to the seats in front and told co-presenter Kathy Griffin: “This is great – the O.J. jury right in the front.”