Emmy Awards: The Stars Showed Up. The Viewers Didn't.

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The promise of Ryan Seacrest as host, a tribute to "The Sopranos" (which turned out to be two big wet kisses to the mob drama) and an appearance by Kanye West, plus rumors Britney Spears would appear to apologize for her VMA train wreck and Justin Timberlake would perform his "Saturday Night Live" tune "[Little Colonel] in a Box," were inducement enough to attract the second smallest audience in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards.

That is, 13.1 million viewers, according to preliminary stats on Sunday night's awards show broadcast.

Three wins by Tony Bennett, who dedicated one of his acceptance speeches to Target stores, two tributes to the late Tom Snyder, a performance by the Jersey Boys, faux version of the '60s Four Seasons, and the amazing Fox Disco Censor-Ball, which eclipsed the stage when America's Sweetheart Sally Field used a swear word or Ray Romano lobbed a naughty sex joke, were just the ticket to draw what is believed to be the trophy show's smallest audience ever among 18- to 49-year-old viewers.

Sunday's Emmys-in-the-round did not manage to accomplish lowest-ever status for overall audience. That record is still safely held by the Fox broadcast of the celebration of TV excellence that aired Sept. 16, 1990, just days after Fox had expanded from a three-night-a-week network to a five-night-a-week network, available in 92 percent of the country. That year, 12.3 million people tuned in to see "Murphy Brown" declared the best comedy series and "L.A. Law" the best drama.

That year, the Emmys got whacked in the ratings by CBS, which aired opposite the trophy show an episode of "Murder, She Wrote" and debuted "E.A.R.T.H. Force," a series about the elite Earth Alert Research Tactical Headquarters group assembled by a dying millionaire to prevent environmental disasters around the world (and which, coincidentally, was the first casualty of that TV season). Also bringing down Emmy that year: ABC broadcast the season debuts of "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "America's Funniest People" followed by the Dirty Harry flick "Sudden Impact."

After that disastrous 1990 Emmycast, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said it was "deeply concerned" about the lousy viewing level, blaming some of the erosion on "an area of tastelessness" on the Fox broadcast, trade publication Electronic Media reported.

The "area of tastelessness" included one presenter chatting about a woman teasing a man by repeatedly unzipping his fly and banter that included the word "horny," the trade publication said like it meant it to sting.

This year, Fox was ready for all areas of tastelessness, unveiling its new Disco Censor-Ball to shelter our eyes from the sight of Sally Field saying, "Let's face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place," and "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano whining that "Frasier is screwing my wife," in reference to a new Fox sitcom in which Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, Romano's former TV-wife, play local news co-anchors/former lovers.

This year's Emmycast was the first to air head-to-head against an NFL game on a broadcast network. NBC aired the San Diego Chargers-New England Patriots game from approximately 8:30 to 11:15 p.m. The Emmys also ran up against a dramatic Yankees-Red Sox game on ESPN.

Still, great production values, the Disco Censor-Ball -- and let's not forget Ryan Seacrest's appearance in that Henry XIII costume from the Showtime series nobody's watching, "The Tudors" -- all added up to a trophy show that came in well below the 16.2 million who'd watched last year's Emmycast on NBC (which aired in late August when all sane people are at the beach), as well as the nearly 19 million who watched the orgy of Emmy dispensing two years ago on CBS.

This year's audience also stands as tall as the "Entourage" cast when they helped present the Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama series (are they short or what?), compared with other recent trophy shows. That includes the Oscars (40 million-ish), the Grammys (20 million-ish), the Golden Globes (20 million) and even the Country Music Association Awards (16 million).

© 2007 The Washington Post Company