Star Of Emmys: 'Modern Family'

GUESTS:
Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for The St. Petersburg Times
Mekeisha Madden, TV critic and writer for The Detroit News

Millions of Americans tuned into the 63rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, where the comedy show Modern Family took home five awards. LL Cool J also rapped about movies and mini series, and Charlie Sheen made surprising comments before presenting the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later, I have a few thoughts. That's my Can I Just Tell You commentary and it's coming up in just a few minutes.

But first, let's talk about the Emmys. Last night was the 63rd Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards, which is supposed to recognize excellence in prime time television. Here to talk about the highs, lows and surprises last night, as well as what we can expect from the upcoming television season - with us once again, Eric Deggans. He's the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. And also with us, Mekeisha Madden Toby. She's the TV critic and writer for the Detroit News.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you both for joining us.

MEKEISHA MADDEN TOBY: Thanks, Michel.

ERIC DEGGANS: Thank you.

MARTIN: Well, we have to talk about the host. This year, it was actress Jane Lynch, nominated for outstanding actress in the comedy series for her work on "Glee." This is one of her more talked about moments from last night. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMMY AWARDS PROGRAM)

JANE LYNCH: You know, a lot of people are very curious why I'm a lesbian. Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of "Entourage."

MARTIN: Eric, I have to be honest. I wasn't curious. Was anybody?

DEGGANS: It's a joke. It's a joke.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, how do you think she did?

DEGGANS: I thought she was a really game, sort of trying - she gave a really great effort with a lot of really mediocre material. I felt like the writers of that show should be banned from Hollywood for a year. They should be a fatwa (unintelligible) the writers of the Emmys. They really ill-served her and a lot of the jokes just fell flat. And she's an amazing comic performer and the fact that the show was even - that the non-awards parts were watchable...

MARTIN: Was due to her?

DEGGANS: ...was a testament to her ability.

MARTIN: Mekeisha, you were there. Did it feel the same way there, that it was kind of meh except for her?

MADDEN TOBY: Yes. There were a lot groans. Well, actually, there were groans for her, too. I mean, it was awkward. There were so many awkward moments and I just felt for her.

DEGGANS: Awkward.

MADDEN TOBY: And there was the one joke she told that was really funny and just to prove to you how much, like, people wanted her to be funny, when she told that joke - it was about actors doing television and then television actors doing voices in video games. People were like cheering for her, like, thank you for finally being funny and delivering in the way that we knew that you could and you weren't.

DEGGANS: And that was late in the show, too, man.

MADDEN TOBY: And that was late. By then, I'm sure people had tuned out.

MARTIN: Yeah, or watching football. Another thing that everybody seemed to be talking about was this group that did the musical interludes between performances. They were called the Emmy Tones and at one point, the actor and the rapper LL Cool J lent a hand. I'll just play a little bit. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMMY AWARDS PROGRAM)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Miniseries and movies make great TV. Wouldn't you agree?

LL COOL J: (Rapping) Yo, miniseries and movie series, minis and miniseries. Who's going to win tonight? I know you got your series. Well, listen up. We're going to answer all your queries. One winner. The rest of them are looking - series, movies, movies, movies, movies and miniseries, movies, movies, movies, movies and miniseries, lights, cameras, action.

MARTIN: Okay.

DEGGANS: I've got to say I was headed to the kitchen to make my sandwich and I stopped. I actually stopped for a minute and then when he was done, I went and made my sandwich.

MARTIN: Mekeisha, what did you think?

MADDEN TOBY: I felt bad for him. I don't know whose idea that was. It's just not him anymore. You know, he's not that guy. Why is he yelling?

MARTIN: I don't know.

MADDEN TOBY: It was just...

MARTIN: I don't know.

DEGGANS: See, I wanted him to...

MADDEN TOBY: I felt like such an old person watching. Why are you yelling?

DEGGANS: I wanted him to do every transition. I wanted him to come out and beat up the Emmy Tones. That's what I wanted to happen.

MARTIN: I don't know. It was kind of Vegas and I don't know. I don't know.

MADDEN TOBY: It was forced.

MARTIN: It was forced.

MADDEN TOBY: That's what it was.

MARTIN: It was. But in terms...

DEGGANS: Everything at the Emmys is forced, though.

MARTIN: Well, in terms of actual awards, though, "Modern Family" cleaned up scoring five. Mekeisha, what did you think? Was it deserved?

MADDEN TOBY: For the most part. I mean, I think it bodes well for broadcast TV. That's a good sign. Right? I mean, because for so long, cable kept winning everything and it's good to see a broadcast show that people really like do really well. I just felt like, did they deserve all of them?

I mean, Ty Burrell. Of all of the cast members on that show, I would argue that he's not the strongest. I mean, not that I was rooting against him or anything. I just want to add on the other winners, I guess. But I mean, overall, I guess they deserved it for best comedy, if nothing else, definitely.

MARTIN: Eric, what'd you think? Deserved?

DEGGANS: Well, I think "Modern Family" is great show, but it's also a great show the Emmy really loves and this was sort of "Modern Family's" coming out party. "Modern Family's" coming out party got dimmed a little bit last year by "Glee" and some other shows, but this time they just ruled everything.

MARTIN: For people who aren't familiar with it, tell us a little bit about it, and what you think the appeal is and why you think the Emmy judges liked it so much.

Sure. It's a situation comedy about three couples that are all related. So you have a father who's married to a younger woman, and then one of his kids is gay and has a family, and then another one of his kids is married to Ty Burrell's character, and he's kind of a doofus. And so they all kind of bounce off each other in this really odd, really wonderful, you know, modern family. You know...

And it's diverse in many ways. It's very diverse. Mm-hmm.

It's diverse. The older guy is married to a Colombian woman who is much younger, there's a gay couple, and the traditional couple is struggling, you know, with everything that we're struggling with...

MADDEN TOBY: And the gay couple has an Asian child.

You're right. Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MADDEN TOBY: So it's racially diverse. It's culturally diverse. It's age diverse. At what it is too is Steven Levitan is somebody who's done a lot of great work in Hollywood for a long time, a lot of people like him, he's a good guy and he has a great creative history. He's done a lot of good work. And a lot of these actors have done a lot of good work.

You talk about Ed O'Neill, you know, from "Married With Children," all the way through to some of his dramatic work; people have really liked him a lot. So, you know, Hollywood loves this show. I mean, strong gay characters, Hollywood loves strong gay characters now, so there's just a lot of reasons why Hollywood loves this show. And, like I said, it had its coming-out party and it's deserved. I mean there were other great - I mean I was surprised that Steve Carell, in his last season in "The Office," didn't win an Emmy for his comic performance, which frankly, I thought was better than the guy who won. You know, Jim Parsons...

And Jim Parsons, who won, was even surprised.

Yeah. Yeah. He said a lot of people told him he wasn't going to win...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MADDEN TOBY: And I'm sure he thought that.

His mother told him that, he said, backstage.

His mother, yeah. yeah. Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well.

So I thought, you know, I thought maybe this might be Steve Carell's time. And Louie C.K., you know...

Yeah.

...everybody thinks that show is very hip, "Louie" on FX, he also didn't win.

Wow.

So it was a surprise in a way, but it was, you know, it wasn't like people who were awful got awards. It was just, you know...

MADDEN TOBY: Right.

...a little different.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about last night's Primetime Emmy Awards with TV and media critic from the St. Petersburg Times, Eric Deggans, And TV and writer for the Detroit News, Mekeisha Madden Toby. Mekeisha used the word awkward earlier.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Perhaps you agree with me, that the appearance of Charlie Sheen presenting the award for...

MADDEN TOBY: That was...

MARTIN: ...outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series was awkward. And do we need...

That was some outstanding acting right there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That was ? do we need to revisit why Charlie Sheen ? just saying the two words, Charlie Sheen...

MADDEN TOBY: Charlie Sheen.

MARTIN: ...makes you, kind of, feel things?

MADDEN TOBY: Wince. You get nervous by...

MARTIN: Well, here it is. I'm going to play a little but from his ? from him last night. Here it is.

CHARLIE SHEEN: Before I present Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, my old category...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHEEN: I want to take a moment to get something off my chest and say a few words to everybody here from "Two and a Half Men." From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Couldn't he have sent them a nice car? I don't know, Eric?

MADDEN TOBY: Hmm.

MARTIN: I don't know. What is that? I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I think that...

...maybe that's why we watch. Maybe that's why we watch.

I think that statement came from the bottom of his lawyer's briefcase.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, Charlie Sheen has been on an apology tour, of sorts.

MADDEN TOBY: Mm-hmm.

He was on the "Today Show" last week and he was trying to explain, you know, why you lost his mind earlier this year. It's interesting to see him try to explain that without admitting that, you know, his addictions got out of control, which is what a lot of people think happened. But he has tried to redeem himself in Hollywood, and I guess this was part of it.

I was kind of surprised that Emmy, not only had him come on and do that, but they also had the two other guys from "Two and a Half Men," Ashton Kutcher, who took his character's place in way, and Jon Cryer, his old co-star, they also presented. They didn't really reference that Charlie was there, which I thought was kind of weird. And it seemed like Emmy was trying to cash in on this, weird, sordid, you know, awful thing that's been, you know, Hollywood's focus, for the last six months (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Sure. Well, speak of, there are a couple of things we want to make sure that we talk about in the time that we have left. Mekeisha, I wanted to ask you about this article that was published on AOL TV recently, about the number of women writers - women writers that TV is losing.

It said that according to the writers Guild of America, over the last 12 years, there's been a sharp decline in the number of women writers, and that the wage gap for these women has nearly quadrupled - despite the fact that women make up a majority of the television audience. Why do we think that is?

MADDEN TOBY: I read that article and I was really fascinated by that. And it talked a lot about the economy and how the old-school thought is that men support families and that women don't. And that if it comes down to a man or woman writer, that they go with the man. It still didn't explain the disparity in terms of wage, but I just find that to be disheartening and it's reflective, I think, though, in what we are seeing on television.

I mean, a lot of these shows this fall feel really insecure and strange. They're all these shows about men who are like the new women and men are threatened. And it's like, who's writing this? And I don't think it's women. And if you look at the numbers, it's not.

MARTIN: Well, think about this: speaking of which, Eric though, we have a couple minutes left to talk about "The Playboy Club." It debuts tonight. It's about the infamous Playboy Club of Chicago in 1963, and it's already gotten a lot of attention - like Gloria Steinem, for example, whose breakout piece as a writer was when she went undercover as a Playboy bunny. And her take on it was, that it's just tacky. This idea that this was something glamorous and exciting is just not true. It just, it was tacky. But what I've been intrigued by is that they're doing a big push on Bunny Brenda, who is the only - who plays the black bunny in the club.

Right.

I'll just - do I have time to play this clip? Let me just play the short clip. And Eric, you've got to tell me, tell me how to feel. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE PLAYBOY CLUB")

NATURI NAUGHTON: (as Brenda) Well, Brenda is the smart girl. She's very strong. She's levelheaded, and I think she's a big dreamer. I going to be the first chocolate centerfold. I am. You can't discriminate against these babies.

MARTIN: And these babies are...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...what Oprah Winfrey euphemistically calls the cousins, for those who aren't familiar with...

The girls.

...the girls. Now, so but then they're trying to make this out to be some civil rights thing, you know, this is like some big blow for...

Right.

And so Eric, talk to me. I mean talk to me. I mean, this follows on "Mad Men," you know.

Well, you know, this ? but see we always see this in Hollywood, And Mekeisha knows what we're talking about. We sat through the same stupid press conferences.

MADDEN TOBY: Oh, god.

They present a show about Playboy and they try to pretend that A, it's not overly sexual and B, it's not exploitive to women, which is nonsense. And so they twist themselves in knots to try and make those points on screen, and the show ends up being about nothing. And frankly, that's what's happened with "The Playboy Club" so far. We've just seen one episode. But the women, the Playboy bunnies in the show, don't even have last names, so don't tell me that this is about empowerment, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MADDEN TOBY: And don't tell me this is about the black bunny finding herself as a chocolate bunny, because that's her only option in the world. I have a feeling that women like Rosa Parks found another way to make an impact in the world other than wearing satin bikinis.

MARTIN: But as far as diversity, Eric, in the 30 seconds or so, is that pretty much it for racial diversity this season? Is that it?

We have to wait until midseason in January to see the one lone fall network show that is - or network show that is starring a person of color, "Scandal" with Kerry Washington. It's actually, I thought it was pretty good. I don't know what you thought about it, Mekeisha, but...

MADDEN TOBY: It should be better.

MARTIN: Okay. Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Guess what? There's always football.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, a lot of diversity there.

That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That was Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Also with us, Mekeisha Madden Toby, TV critic and writer for the Detroit News. Eric was with us from St. Petersburg, Florida, and Mekeisha joined us from our studios at NPR West. Thank you both so much for joining us.

MADDEN TOBY: Thanks, Michel.

Thank you.

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