Like the "A Team" blasting its way through a warehouse wall, NBC stormed the 35th annual Emmy Awards last night, winning more prizes than both ABC and CBS combined and bombarding the viewing audience with live promotional announcements designed to make instant hay of the achievement.
On the program, broadcast live from Pasadena, NBC won 21 Emmys, ABC five and CBS only one. One award each went to PBS and to a syndicated program. Several of the Emmy prizes for prime-time television excellence, meanwhile, went to programs that either have suffered low ratings or have been canceled altogether by one network or another.
CBS won its only Emmy of the evening 2 hours and 45 minutes into the 3 1/2-hour program--and then for a show that CBS has canceled, "Cagney and Lacey"; Tyne Daly won the award as best actress in a drama series for playing a cop on that program, which a CBS executive recently said might get a reprieve later in the season because the network has been swamped with viewer protests.
As usual, the Emmy show was an arduously lengthy one, but for some viewers it was too long almost as soon as it started. Comedian Joan Rivers, who cohosted the program with Eddie Murphy of "Saturday Night Live," lit up network switchboards when she used a profanity normally verboten in prime-time television and when she referred to Interior Secretary James Watt as an "idiot."
Discussing the nine gowns she would wear during the program, Rivers joshed that on previous Emmy shows she hadn't been allowed even to sit in "the goddamned audience." While "damn" is considered acceptable now on TV, prefacing it with "God" is not. Rivers, who laughed uproariously at her own jokes all night long, also told Murphy that since he was a black Catholic, and she was a Jewish woman, if he had a limp, "we could be James Watt's entire committee."
Then she added, "Is he an idiot!"
The stunning surprise of the evening, Rivers' gowns and gaffes aside, was the winner of the best limited series award, which went not to either of ABC's high-rated blockbusters, "The Winds of War" or "The Thorn Birds," but to the British import "Nicholas Nickleby," a boisterous theatrical adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel and a project rejected by all three networks. It was shown on an ad hoc network organized by Mobil, which sponsored it.
"Cheers," a low-rated NBC comedy series set in a Boston bar, and "St. Elsewhere," a low-rated NBC dramatic series set in a Boston hospital, were among the big winners in the Emmystakes. Doris Roberts and James Coco, who guest-starred in a few early "Elsewhere" episodes as an indigent couple, won as best supporting actress and supporting actor in a drama series.
"I'm so glad I had my nails done," Roberts joked, but then, turning serious and her voice quivering, she said she wished her husband William, who died Aug. 29, had lived to see her win. "It's for him and everybody else who believed," she said, holding up the Emmy. Coco said, "I'm so glad we both won."
Ed Flanders, who plays the head of fictitious St. Eligius hospital in the program, was named best actor in a drama series.
"Cheers" won four awards, including best comedy series as well as prizes to Shelley Long, who plays a spunky and daffy waitress, as best actress in a comedy series; Les Charles and Glen Charles for writing the episode "Give Me a Ring Sometime"; and James Burrows, who created the show with the Charles brothers, for best direction of a comedy episode.
If NBC was bolstered by its landslide of Emmy wins, it was also humiliated by the three Emmy awards that went to "Taxi," which the network canceled earlier this year--one year after having rescued it, with great fanfare, when ABC canceled it after a four-year, multi-Emmy-winning run. "Taxi" costars Carol Kane and Christopher Lloyd both won for their supporting roles on the show, and Judd Hirsch, a previous winner, won for best actor in a comedy series.
Although he professed "no hard feelings" toward NBC for canceling the show, Hirsch addressed NBC Chairman Grant Tinker, seated in the audience, and said, "We're ready, Grant, we're ready, whenever you want to put us back on." He said that since "Taxi" won so many laurels, "then you should really put us back on the air." Holding the Emmy aloft, Hirsch added he should probably "take this thing and shove it right up there beside the one I got in 1981." The crowd whooped approval.
Another canceled NBC show that won an Emmy, for best writing of a variety or music series, was "SCTV Comedy Network." One of the show's stars and writers, Eugene Levy, said, "There will be a Cinemax represetative in the lobby for anyone who wants to sign up," referring to the pay TV service that picked up SCTV and will begin offering it to subscribers on Nov. 22.
"Hill Street Blues," the ground-breaking dramatic series about the gritty life of big-city cops, again won the Emmy for best dramatic series, as well as prizes for the writing of a drama series (a category in which "Hill Street" had all five nominations) and direction of a drama series.
When early this year it aired "Special Bulletin," a high-powered drama about an act of nuclear terrorism, NBC repeatedly interrupted the program with nervous and disruptive disclaimers telling viewers it was fiction, fearing another "War of the Worlds" panic. But last night the broadcast won two Emmys, one for best writing of a special or limited series and one for best dramatic special. Accepting the best drama special award, producer Don Ohlmeyer said, "This is the first time 'Special Bulletin' has been on television without a disclaimer."
Of 13 nominations, "Winds of War" received not a single Emmy, but "Thorn Birds" won Emmys for Jean Simmons and Richard Kiley, who played the married couple who inherited a huge Australian sheep station, and for veteran performer Barbara Stanwyck, who played a wealthy matriarch in the early chapters of the ABC "Novel for Television."
In a gesture of virtually unprecedented graciousness in the annals of awards show behavior, Stanwyck saluted one of the actresses she defeated in her category. She said the acting of Ann-Margret in ABC's "Who Will Love My Children?" was "one of the finest performances I have ever seen" and said, "Ann-Margret, you were superb," which not surprisingly caused Ann-Margret to break into tears in the audience and weep on her husband's shoulder.
Tommy Lee Jones was named best actor in a limited series or special for playing convicted and executed killer Gary Gilmore in Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song," also on NBC. And NBC's "Big Bird in China" was named best children's program; it was the first time the Emmy in this category has been awarded on the air.
Additional technical and craft Emmys were presented at an untelevised banquet one week earlier. With those awards added into the tabulations, the final totals for the networks are 33 for NBC, 14 for ABC and 11 for CBS.
Ceremonial moments during the program included a tribute to Lee Strasberg, the founder of the Actor's Studio and of an American style of acting that came to be known as "the method." Eva Marie Saint called Strasberg, who died in February 1982 at the age of 80, "a shy and introspective genius," and the tribute included a clip from a mid-'50s musical TV adaptation of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," which starred Saint and a young Paul Newman.
John Mitchell, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Emmys, announced the first seven names in the Academy's new television "hall of fame," to be honored on a telecast in February: Gen. David Sarnoff, who founded RCA; pioneering CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow; Paddy Chayevsky, author of "Marty" and other television plays (and the savage movie satire of television, "Network"); CBS chairman and founder William S. Paley; comedian Lucille Ball; producer and writer Norman Lear, who created "All in the Family" and other trend-setting comedies; and the clown once known as "Mr. Television," Milton Berle.
Sylvester L. (Pat) Weaver, who during television's infancy invented the "Today" and "Tonight" shows and the TV special, then called "spectaculars," became the sixth recipient of the academy's Governor's Award for his contributions to television. The presentation was made by Johnny Carson, who has hosted the "Tonight" show for 20 years; he called Weaver "a true pioneer and creator." Weaver said that among the original goals of television were "to enrich life" and "to make the common man into the uncommon man."
Weaver, who is now active in pay television, called for more live programming, told the audience to "fight the establishments who uphold the status quo" and closed his remarks by saying, "There is much to do. Aim for excellence. Start tomorrow. Thank you."
And Perry Como, whose weekly variety show was a felicitous fixture on NBC from 1955 to 1963, was given the tribute treatment for having accumulated 50 years in show business.
The Emmy Awards were broadcast live from Pasadena Civic Auditorium by NBC, which used the occasion to showcase "live" promos for the network and its new fall shows from such locations as Mount Rushmore and Seattle. The word "Emmy" was adapted from "immy," nickname for the image orthacon tube, which is among the inventions that made television possible. Or impossible, depending on one's point of view.