You have enough no-shows and you get no show. But it says something about television that even the no-shows must go on, and last night, after a fashion, the 32nd annual Emmy awards did.
"Some performers have chosen not to appear on the program tonight," said cohost Dick Clark at the opening of the program, televised live on NBC from Pasadena. But that was an understatement. Striking members of the Screen Actors Guild, who have shut down Hollywood production for two months, boycotted the ceremonies in devastating numbers.
So that instead of occasional winners being unable to appear to accept an award, hardly any did. In fact, no until 11 p.m., when the show was a grueling two hours old, did an actor come up to the stage to accept an Emmy in person.
"This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest," said Powers Boothe, who won a best acting Emmy for playing Jim Jones in a lurid piece of trash on CBS called "Guyana Tragedy." Boothe went on to say, "This is America and one has to do what one believes in, and I believe in the Academy, and I also believe in my fellow actors and their stand."
Boothe got a standing ovation, literally just for showing up. Otherwise awards were accepted and presented by those little people behind the scenes whom actors usually go on yammering about. The likes of producers David L. Wolper and George Schlatter and network executives Brandon Tartikoff (NBC) and Brandon Stoddard (ABC) showed up. It was a grand night for Brandons, but for hardly anybody else.
The show was marked by more than the usual amount of technical flubs and cue card troubles, but not that much more, and until the program yawned beyond 11:30, it wasn't that much more boring than any other Emmy show. As usual, the sheet number of awards presented made most of them meaningless.
If not for the professionalism of cohosts Clark and the indomitable Steve Allen (replacing Lee Remick, Bob Newhart and Michael Landon), the program might have been even more a shambles than it was. Allen began with, "Good evening -- we'll see about that, I suppose," and referred to the program under his own alternate titles of "Where Are They Now?" and "In Search Of." Allen said both he and Clark were donating their "substantial" salaries for the show to SAG's emergency strike fund, and at one point Allen gave a plug for an upcoming strike benefit concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
The program receiving the most awards was the CBS drama series "Lou Grant," which was cited in five categories, including best supporting actress -- Nancy Marchand as publisher Mrs. Pynchon -- best drama series (a dubious honor, considering there are hardly any on the air) and of course best actor -- Ed Asner in the title role. Asner has been one of the most vocal striking SAG members and among the first to announce he would boycott the show. Virtually everybody jumped on the bandwagon after that.
"Baryshnikov on Broadway," an exhilarating musical special starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli, was the most honored special, dancing away with awards in four categories, including best variety or musical program and best direction (Dwight Hemion). "Taxi" was named best comedy series and won awards in other categories. NBC's remake of "The Miracle Worker" was chosen best dramatic special.
Many other actors were nominated, but only their photographs showed up: Harry Morgan, best supporting actor in a comedy, "M*A*S*H"; Loretta Swit, best supporting actress in a comdey, same show. Richard Mulligan and Cathryn Damon won best actor and actress in a comedy, for "Soap." Barbara Bel Geddes was named best actress for "Dalles," and Stuart Margolin, best supporting actor in a drama series, for NBC's defunct "Rockford Files."
Of the major awards announced on the program.ABC and CBS won in 13 categories each, NBC in nine and PBS in one.
As the evening wore on, the production became increasingly slipshod and was marked by two egregious lapses in taste. NBC personality Kelly Lange asked visiting Japanese actress Yoko Shimada, here to plug the upcoming "Shogun," which city she preferred, New York or Los Angeles. When Shimada replied that she like both equally, Lange said, "Very Japanese, Yoko," and the audience groaned.
Later, when Tom Smothers was stumbling hopelessly over the cue cards, he suddenly announced, "I've got dyslexia," a serious learning disorder and not much of a joke. Smothers became increasingly unruly and could be heard shouting "Get off!" to producer Gary Smith as he accepted an award.
"Thank you very much, Tom Smothers," Allen said. "We'll see you in another 12 years" -- a reference to the fact that the Smothers Brothers are not precisely the hottest property in television.
There were the usual camera pans of the audience, but the recognizable celebrities were few and far between, to say the most.Often presenting writers and producers would make their way back to the auditorium after appearing on stage in order to help keep the seats filled. The few actors who could be spotted included Dino Martin, whose credentials as an actor are somewhat in doubt, and the effervescent Jayne Meadows, who happens to be Allen's wife.
NBC, most misfortunate of television networks, had the colossal bad luck to be the network that got the Emmys this year. As Allen noted in his opening remarks, NBC also got stuck with the debacle of the Moscow Olympics. "Folks," Allen said, perhaps only half jokingly, "remember Fred Silverman in your prayers." Allen said times were so rough at NBC that the network was going back to black and white and changing its slogan to "NBC, Proud as a Penguin."
The festivities, to stretch a term beyond endurance, included brief tributes to the late David Janssen and Jimmy Durante. The honorary board of governors award was presented -- in absentia, of course -- to Johnny Carson, and accepted for him by John J. MacMahon, a former NBC program executive now president of Carson Productions Inc.
Finally at midnight, the program sputtered to an end. It was "not one of the easier nights of the year," said Clark, and Allen told the assembled crowd, "For all you hostages in the audience, you are now in hour three of your captivity."