Transcript: Mon., Sept.. 22, 1 p.m. ET

2008 Emmy Awards: Post-Show Wrap-up

Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008; 1:00 PM

The Post's Tom Shales is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic who reviews shows with wit, humor and a quick finger on the remote. He was online to discuss the highs -- and lows -- from this year's Emmy Awards show.

Check out the scene from the 60th Annual Emmy Awards.

And view our gallery of show highlights.

A transcript follows.

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Tom Shales: Tom Shales here, staring at a screen as usual, hoping to answer questions with a modicum of intelligence, whatever exactly a "modicum" is.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Is it just me or was that whole "Five Hosts" idea the DUMBEST thing ever!!!!

Tom Shales: No it isn't just you. It was those five hosts. They've tried multiple hosts before -- never works. Years ago, the Emmys originated from both New York and Los Angeles; a host in each city. That worked ok but the New York origination got canned long ago. The 5-hosts was bad enough, but the little "trick" of having them have nothing to say for the first ten minutes was a disaster. It was one of those things where you have to ask "What WERE they thinking?" Or were they thinking at all?

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Rockville, Md.: I surfed in and out of the Emmys, but other than Don Rickles,the show seemed like a real drag. Was that your thinking as well, or did I just surf over at the wrong times?

Tom Shales:"A real drag" is a good way to put it. I was racing to make deadline so I didn't have time to review the show; basically I thought it was terrible. Very blah, very tired, sort of like a game of charades that nobody really wanted to play. The idea of having the Reality Kids as hosts was TERRIBLE; it was a bad concept poorly executed. None of the hosts looked like they wanted to be there.

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Tom Smothers: A true highlight seeing him again--unbowed at 71 and still speaking his mind. Remember the rumpus when the Brothers Smothers engaged Pete Seeger to sing "waist deep in the big muddy" amid the Vietnam War morass? Who would have the courage to do that today?

Tom Shales: Yes Tommy looked great and still feisty. (His brother on the other hand looked 20 years older than Tommy; strange how things like that happen)... The third season of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" is just out on DVD. The third season was the last I guess; I think it has the Pete Seeger sequence and David Steinberg's "Biblical" lesson and so on. Harry Belafonte singing "Dont Stop the Carnival." Those were very passionate times. I wonder if the passion has gone out of public discourse.

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Conan O'Brien: Can you tell me what he meant by his Katherine Heigl comment? It got a big laugh, but it went over my head.

Tom Shales: I don't know WHAT Conan meant by that. If anyone out there knows, please send in the answer as a question (does that make sense? I hope so. Relatively speaking)

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Washington, D.C.: Why does Hollywood insist on tooting its own horn every few months with these ridiculous award shows?

Last night was deplorable, and just goes to show how bad things can get when they try to "tweak" a format. I'd LOVE to see the minute by minute ratings to see exactly how many people tuned off after the first 60 seconds of the show. Just shockingly BAD.

Also, why do award show directors insist on piping in sound from the theater during "In Memoriam" segments as if we need the applause to tell us which dead celebrities are more important than others?

Tom Shales: I agree, Award Shows are a blight, but the population seems to keep increasing. When TV Critics formed themselves into an association, and one of the first orders of business was "Let's Give Out Awards," I said, "Include Me OUT," to quote Samuel Goldwyn -- or maybe Yogi Berra. Whichever. But award shows seem to draw viewers with the promise of stars, even if the stars don't do anything or just say a few words and bow out. Plus there's always the tantalizing chance that someone will make a fool of himself on live TV

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Bleech: Those charlatans from the reality shows were beyond excreable. Why was so much time wasted on them and the winners of the biggest awards at the end of the broadcase4 had to literally race across the stage, gasp a few words, and be rushed off?

Tom Shales: Good question re why so much time given to the "reality" hosts -- though by some miracle, the Emmycast DID get off on time, it didn't seep over into the 11 o'clock hour (if it did, only by a tiny amount of time). I think we have here a very good example of a less-than-competent producer. I had to dash out of the room (and write) so I don't know who produced the show this year, but whoever it is, they approached the record for number of dumb choices and ill-advised decisions. OPRAH WAS RIGHT THERE, why couldnt SHE host?! That would have helped.......

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Heigl: Earlier this year, Katherine Heigl took her name out of the running for an Emmy because she said she hadn't been given material suitable to earn her an award. Cue all sorts of discussion about the writers putting her in a coma for the rest of her contract.

Conan's was a gooood line.

Tom Shales: Thank you for coming up with the Heigl answer. I just do not remember that name clearly enough. I think the joke was mainly for the audience there in the auditorium - and for people like you who are very 'up' on such things. Conan is a very bright, smart comic.

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Smothers Brothers: I thought Tommy's speech was the evening's highlight. But I missed him mentioning the late, great writer (and Presidential candidate) Pat Paulsen among other writers on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Was there a falling-out between them, or what?

Tom Shales: I just think Tom Smothers didn't have time to mention everyone. Steve Martin was one of the Smothers Brothers' writers too. Pat Paulsen would have been a timely topic because we're in an election year and he ran for president a couple (a few?) times. Ralph Nader used to be buddies with Tom Smothers; don't know if they are still friends. Nader has alienated more than one former admirer with his presidential campaigns.

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The fall season: Tom: This isn't exactly an Emmys question, but why do the major networks even bother doing a fall season anymore? The summer rerun season disappeared years ago. Do they get big enough ratings for debut episodes of new shows when clumped together in a new season format to draw the advertising revenue necessary to make it worthwhile? Given that they're going to have to replace at least half of these shows in the next few weeks, it doesn't make financial success to me. But for some reason, they don't ask me.

Tom Shales: The Fall Season is now a mere formality. There is also a summer season and a spring season and maybe a winter season. In fact what really matters are the quarters that Madison Avenue divides the year into -- the most important being the Fourth Quarter, October-December, when people go on buying binges for the holidays. Nielsen still decrees when the fall season starts for the purposes of compiling season-to-date ratings averages and so on. It's like an old habit that won't go away.

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Censorship: I didn't watch the show (many better ways to spend my Sunday evening- I have paint cans in the garage that need organizing, for example) but I heard something about ABC cutting away from certain acceptance speeches- "John Adams"'s producer and Stephen Colbert? Is that correct? What was the reasoning? It sounds like a lot of political content wasn't censored, so what was the problem here?

Tom Shales: I think the "cutting away" was just a matter of trying to keep the show on-time and not go way over at the end, which they did manage to do. Last year (or was it 2 years ago?) as you may recall, Fox had the Emmys and CENSORED the show while it was on the air, cutting out Sally Field's remarks about war for fear she would denounce the War in Iraq. It turned out that about all she said was "War Is Bad." Apparently Fox finds that a dangerous sentiment. Maybe seditious.

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New York: It's a pleasure to chat with a journalist with your level of integrity, Tom.

The show last night reminded me of perhaps my favorite show from the past 20 years, notably the winner of 22 Emmys before it was blacklisted. I'm speaking of "Pee Wee Herman's Playhouse." My question to you is, would the show have survived the scandal had things happened today? I'd like to think so, because "Pee Wee" brought so much beauty and joy into the mornings of children during the time he was given.

Tom Shales: A fan of "Pee Wee's Playhouse"! It was a bold experiment by CBS. The networks have cut way back on their Saturday-morning children's programming, so I doubt if anything as offbeat as Pee Wee could survive today. ABC doesn't produce kids' shows for Saturday morning any more; it just airs reruns from the Disney Channel, owned by the same company (Disney, that is). One could lament this -- but it's probably better that kids are not being encouraged to stay indoors on a Saturday morning & stare at the box (they're probably still staying home, staring at their computer screen instead of TV -- progress? I wonder)

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Community Organizer: I thought Laura Linney got off an excellent line.

Tom Shales: Laura Linney's line -- the one about "the community organizers that helped form our country"? A slap at the

McCain campaign for making fun of "community organizer"

in Barack Obama's resume. Very deftly done. Laura Linney

is GREAT in every role she plays, or so it seems to me.

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From one Woman's POV: What an up and down night for women.

First Oprah demonstrates she's lost any sense of comic timing she's ever had by spending her days surrounded by sycophants.

Then they strip Heidi Klum for laughs. Ha ha! We can't trust her to speak intelligently but look! She's got a body! Heidi seems very happy to comply. Her training is primarily as a Victoria's Secret model, remember.

Cue Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for some of the first intelligent lines of the night.

Then Howie blathers again while the nauseating Deal or No Deal girls escort the accountants in.

Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore give Tina an award. Great - honestly, great.

Then Craig Ferguson's touching Brooke Shield's butt (the one sexist moment that was actually funny.)

Then they dropped Heidi on her head. Ha! Ha!

Then Glenn Close brings it home about older sexy characters.

So back and forth. It was as if someone let Univision produce the Oscars.

Tom Shales: This is a great comment re win-some/lose-some for women at the Emmys. I couldn't believe they would strip Heidi Klum on-camera & call that funny. I am surprised she would stand for that. It was nice to see Mary Tyler Moore again but please, did she have to wear a sleeveless dress? She looked pretty bad (I would say the same thing about a man in similar circumstances -- like why couldn't that Probst guy wear a tie, for Pete's sake? It's against his "principles"? What a crock......)

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Saturday cartoons: Tom, that is one thing I lament! When I was a kid, Saturday morning cartoons were for family bonding. My dad and I watched Smurfs, Gummi Bears, Snorks, etc. from 6:30 until 11:00 and then we had pancakes. It's one of my favorite childhood memories. I wish that they still existed!

Tom Shales: Well, my memories go way, WAY back -- to a Saturday morning show called "Winky Dink and You" on CBS. Starring Jack Barry, who later succumbed to the Quiz Show scandals. But Winky Dink was NOT controversial, except that it required kiddies to send away for a plastic screen that would stick to the TV screen via static electricity (we discovered Saran Wrap worked as well). It was true interactive TV; young viewers would "complete" drawings which then came to life and danced or sang or just bounced around. Very much fun for those of us who were wee little toddlers at the time.

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Bowie, Md.: Pee Wee wasn't just for kids ... I loved it. My kids would be in and out and I'd be glued to the TV. Remember Lawrence Fishburne?

Tom Shales: Lawrence Fisburn played "Cowboy Bob" (or Cowboy SOMEBODY) in the original Pee Wee stage show. Phil Hartman was also a cast member. Now I'm trying to remember the name of the genie that lived in a box (and made a moderately lewd comment one day about the problem of having no hands). The show had a lot of disguised adult humor - nothing that would harm children, I don't think, because it would "go over their heads," as the saying goes..... Even the art direction on the show was something special......

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Davidsonville, Md.: Also loved Giamatti's line to the "kids": "Anybody can grow up to play president."

Tom Shales: Yes, very good. One reader says he/she doesn't want to hear actors talking politics on TV. But wait - there are some very smart actors out there in Television Land. Anyway, I wanted this question to go out on the wire, or whatever it is. By the way, I am a little show because my mouse is sick. Not just sick, but dying. I apologize for bad behavior by my mouse.....

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Fairfax, Va.: What in the Wide World of Sports is "Breaking Bad," and how does the converted Jewish dentist from Seinfeld and dad from Malcom in the Middle win an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series? Was this show on in some alternate reality, because if a show is good enough to win such a prestigous award, you would think someone would know something about it. Every note about Cranston's win doesn't even say what the show is about or why he deserved to win, just that it was a "surprise."

BTW, there's nothing "cheeky" or "edgy" about AMC (formerly American Movie Classics). Their declining ratings for edited Soprano's re-runs and bad movies forced them to develop real programming, some of which is somewhat watchable. Mad Men is more style than substance, which Emmy voters couldn't seem to notice, and their other programing is far from what used to be a strong competitor to Turner Classic Movies, and developer of the best cable television format.

Tom Shales: I hope I didn't call AMC "cheeky" or "edgey." I thought I said that about FX, the out-there Fox-owned cable network. I agree with you completely about AMC. It's a bunch of junk. "Mad Men" a riotously over-rated piece of nothing. But it has long scenes, and people miss those because the crime-show procedurals tend to move along at a rapid clip, bada-bing bada-boom. AMC absolutely REFUSES to letter-box any widescreen movies it shows - but - it letterboxes its own "Mad Men" series, which easily could be televised in the old 4x3 aspect ratio. The nerve! And the stupidity. I can't believe they're trying to make a "network" out of ONE SHOW...........

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Formerly D.C.: Tom -- I almost cried when I saw your mention of Winky Dink! I adored that show. And Saturday mornings in the 1950s were great for kids, and then you had all afternoon to play outside, sometimes mimicking the shows you'd watched, like My Friend Flika and Sky King. Or you'd just say "Let's play like. . ." and let your imaginations run wild. Sometimes I'm glad I'm old!

Tom Shales: Thank you for that heartwarming note. I also remember a show about a boy & a horse -- "Fury"? Most of these shows are now available on DVDs -- at least if producers were smart enough to hold onto prints or the negative of the original. I was a big fan of the original "Lassie" with Tommy Rettig, which aired on CBS Sunday evenings, I think, perhaps just before or after a great CBS News show called "The Twentieth Century" with Walter Cronkite. Sorry, I love to reminisce...........

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Instead of answering all the questions praising the liberal lines at the Emmys and just stating that "a reader" doesn't like the political speeches, why don't you post that reader's comment and directly address the issue, instead of openly posting those questions that share your (liberal) viewpoint?

Tom Shales: Oh liberal shmiberal. I'm just answering the questions as they pop up -- but you go ahead & look upon it as a conspiracy if you want to.... I blame it all on my mouse....

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St. Paul: Mr. Shales -- Thanks for chatting today. I'm a big fan of your column and always acute insights. Last night's show not only made me not want to watch the Emmys again, ever, it came very close to turning me off to TV entirely. For pete's sake, we have amazing productions (Damages, Angels in America, Sopranos, on and on), and THIS is the best they can come up with? To me it was appalling, and whoever came up with it should be horsewhipped (or at least fired). There, I feel better.

Tom Shales: Thank you. Letters with compliments in them invariably get answered (well not invariably, I lost a couple -- or, uhh, maybe one). The Emmy show has a tradition -- of not being very good. And let's not forget the year that the Oscars opened with Rob Lowe serenading "Snow White," and what a debacle that was. Basically -- really talented people don't want to work on awards shows because they can make more money doing REAL TV. People who work on awards shows tend to be out-of-work......

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Fairfax: Tom: "Sorry, I love to reminisce..........."

One of your Style section cohorts reminisces about older books worth a second look. Why can't you write a periodic article reminiscing about older TV shows that might be worth a second look?

Tom Shales: WHY? Because EDITORS would never permit it. EDITORS are what's wrong with newspapers, you know. What I don't blame on my mouse, I blame on editors.

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Ashland, MO: What's the point of giving awards to programs most people have never seen? Not only is this true of Emmys, but also Oscars. Do critics automatically assume something can't be meritorious just because most people like it? It didn't used to be this way. What changed?

Tom Shales: I think it's actually worse with the Oscars. To be a best picture nominee now, it seems like a film has to be depressing, arcane, arty, dreary, and in limited release. I guess it's partly because so many films are made based on comic books, and the Hollywood establishment doesn't want to give awards to THEM. So they go looking for the most obscure films they can find. I don't think I saw any of this years' Best Picture Nominees.

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Andy - London: If you didn't get the Heigl comment you must have been living under a rock for the past few months. It was the single biggest Emmy story prior to the event, particularly given Heigl won the award the previous year. Personally I think she was right - she had really bad material last year on Grey's Anatomy - and the joke was just another pathetic dig at her expense.

Tom Shales: I don't think you had to be living under a rock. She just doesn't have a household name. Time roars by and it's hard to remember all the names in the news in a given week. Too bad because Conan's joke was a good one for those who knew or recognized the reference. I wish I'd been one of them.

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Soupy Sales and Rocky & Bullwinkle: Saturday cartoons went downhill from there.

Tom Shales: Of course, Soupy Sales was not a cartoon - just cartoonISH. I don't know if Soupy was ever national -- maybe he was, via ABC, but not for a very long time. I grew up in the Chicago area and we didn't seem to have Soupy on our local stations ... not for long, anyway.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Obviously from your columns and your support of Laura Linney's line, you're a big Obama supporter. But did you feel the many political references, all of which were liberal, went a bit over the top?

Tom Shales: Actually, I was surprised that, this being an election year, there weren't more political references. They really kept a lid on them, I think, compared to what things were like in, say, the 60s -- which is when the Smothers Brothers got in trouble for protesting the Vietnam War.

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New York: I've been too busy to watch much TV the past 10 years, but I'm now comfortable enough to "catch up" a bit. People whom I tend to agree with have suggested "The Wire," "Friday Night Lights," and "Battlestar Galactica." Which of these series do you happen to prefer?

Tom Shales: Of the shows you mentioned, I greatly admire "The Wire" but have a hard time keeping a date to watch it every week (tho it's only on for a couple months or so at a time, right?). I think "Friday Night Lights" is a GREAT show, but the jumpy and jittery camera work drives me a little batty. I wish the camera could hold still just long enough so that I can see what the actors actually look like. It's one of those Dramamine shows....

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Washington, D.C.: During the In Memoriam part, did they show George Carlin twice?

Also, how do they pick presenters? I thought at one point it was the previous year's winner, but it didn't seem to be like that this year.

Tom Shales: I think they used George Carlin to sort of "bracket" the in-memoriam segment, tho that was awkward and probably a bad idea; his death of no greater significance than many of the others during the year... As for how they choose presenters, I think the rule is "anyone who says 'yes' can do it." The Oscars used to abide by the "last year's winner" rule but I think even they have dropped that since people are hard to pin down and likely to be unavailable...

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Tom Shales: I am sorry there were so many questions I didn't get to. It wasn't because some were political or whatever -- I just grabbed as they popped up. MANY MANY THANKS to everyone who participated.

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