At the Emmys: The Winners We're OK With. The Show? Not So Much

The five hosts of this year's Emmys

The five hosts: Heidi Klum, Tom Bergeron, Howie Mandel, Ryan Seacrest, and Jeff Probst. Probst lost his tie in a fight with a bear, apparently. Frazer Harrison, Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

The Emmy ceremony on Sunday night was a stupefyingly bad show, even though it managed to get a lot of the awards right. Boring except when it was eye-poppingly terrible, the show still honored good work from Mad Men, 30 Rock, and the HBO miniseries John Adams. It was kind of like throwing a birthday party for someone you really like — and serving tainted food.

Having five hosts was a bad idea; using the five nominated reality-show hosts turned out to be a much worse idea than it initially seemed.

For all that this will lead to a lot of smug commentary about the stupidity of reality shows, that wasn't the problem at all: With the exception of Heidi Klum, those hosts have demonstrated an ability to riff comfortably without help.

But the sheer number of people involved often made the stage look hopelessly cluttered, and it seemed to make them all edgy.

That's not to mention the true horror that was their "We've got nothing planned" opening, which fell on its face so spectacularly that it is probably, even now, having its fractured nose set by a surgeon.

The marginally successful visual gag of having all five of them — including tall, glamorous Heidi Klum — wearing dark suits was spoiled by Survivor host Jeff Probst's insistence on going without a tie and leaving his collar open. (Non-fans of Survivor have no way of knowing this, but Probst's need to look rugged and more-manly-than-thou plagues him everywhere, and this was no exception.)

More about the ceremony and the winners, after the jump...

The only host who looked good was Dancing With The Stars host Tom Bergeron, an underrated performer with a long history of hosting game shows and talk shows, who managed to seem relaxed and funny and would have been a perfectly lovely solo host.

The worst performance was from Klum, who looked grumpy and irritated the entire time, and who read from the teleprompter with all the flair of a local furniture-store owner making his first commercial.

The worst moment of the show not involving the hosts was Josh Groban's atrocious medley of TV theme songs, which was so bad that I'm glad it's on YouTube so you can see it for yourself. Were it not, you might well believe I had taken too much cold medicine and made it up:

This misbegotten thing was apparently supposed to be funny at times — as you can tell from his performance of the South Park theme — but mostly it was just a collection of Groban-ified versions of theme songs, as with The Jeffersons. Listening to nobody laughing at his increasingly manic antics hurt a little bit, and the chorus-girl kick line to "Suicide Is Painless" (from M*A*S*H) will appear for years to come on lists of the worst things that have ever happened on awards shows.

The winners were deserving, in most cases — Mad Men and 30 Rock took Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Comedy respectively, and James Spader didn't repeat as Outstanding Lead Actor. He lost (in a development I told you was very unlikely, which is why I don't put down money on awards shows) to Bryan Cranston of AMC's Breaking Bad — who did indeed beat the more talked-about Jon Hamm of Mad Men.

My heart was broken again, as I knew it would be, by the ridiculous repeat win for Jeremy Piven of Entourage, who took the Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy trophy that rightfully belonged to Neil Patrick Harris. (But without an injustice or two, it wouldn't be the Emmys.)

The Wire and Battlestar Galactica both lost that writing award to one of the Mad Men episodes, Tina Fey did win for Lead Actress In A Comedy, and The Amazing Race won Outstanding Reality-Competition Show for the sixth year running. (The Daily Show, also going for the sixpeat, took the prize as well.)

And now, a new season is beginning — tonight brings the premieres of Dancing With The Stars, How I Met Your Mother, and Heroes — and in a year, we'll do it all again.

But not, it's safe to say, with these hosts.



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All actors and musicians should have copies of that TV-theme-song medley, so after any disappointing experience, they can watch it and say to themselves, "At least you're not this guy."

Sent by Gary C | 10:22 AM | 9-22-2008

Aw, I thought the medley was cute. I don't like Groban, but I do like TV theme songs, and I thought he looked like he was having fun.

Sent by Alena | 11:14 AM | 9-22-2008

Best moment of the night, as recapped by my colleagues and me this morning: Don Rickles. The only one who knew how to ramble well and was genuinely funny. Ricky Gervais is always gold, but Steve Carell's refusal to crack a smile during that bit is kinda old and dumb. That went on too long.

Sent by Carrie | 1:40 PM | 9-22-2008

Groban was fine -- the opening was not only the worst moment of this Emmy show -- it was the worst opening of all the Emmy shows, the worst moment of all Emmy shows and almost certainly the worst moment of any awards show ever broadcast.

Laura Linney's tribute to community organizers was the best moment of the show.

Sent by AJ | 2:16 PM | 9-22-2008

I do think that the Groban medley was aiming for some kind of knowing wink-wink "ironic" tone about it all... but as with so much else in the planning of the show (the attempt to go all meta with the reality hosts need to do "nothing" at the beginning comes to mind), it failed miserably in the execution. You have to nail your intended tone a lot more accurately than that if you want to play the just-kidding game.

Sent by Rinaldo | 2:21 PM | 9-22-2008

I enjoyed the medley very much. I brought back lots of memories of my growing up years. Groban showed a lot of flexibility and energy.Too bad people feel that they have to knock others down.

Sent by Liane | 2:30 PM | 9-22-2008

chill, man. the medley was great fun. try to do it.

Sent by mountainman | 3:02 PM | 9-22-2008

I'm with Alena. I can't stand Groban, but I thought that was funny, particularly when he busted out the Cartman impression and when he sighed before launching into the Fresh Prince theme.

Sent by Alan Sepinwall | 3:24 PM | 9-22-2008

I love Josh Groban and I liked the medley just fine!

Sent by Sue | 3:38 PM | 9-22-2008

Goodness, I will certainly avoid reading anything else by this dyspeptic reviewer who is so obviously devoid of a sense of humor. NPR, with bloggers like this, you're chasing away all the young'uns.

Sent by Carol | 4:35 PM | 9-22-2008

I also loved the medley, I thought the South Park, Baywatch, and Cops bits were the highlights.

Sent by Paige | 4:40 PM | 9-22-2008

This was great... not only a neat arrangement, but very difficult vocal performance. I do like Josh Groban; great job Josh!!

Sent by Jeff G. M. | 5:32 PM | 9-22-2008

Are you crazy? Josh's moment was the BEST part of the whole show!

Sent by emily | 5:41 PM | 9-22-2008

Eh, I wouldn't go so hard on the Groban thing either. It wasn't good, but at least it was goofy, cheesy badness rather than the mind-numbing idiocy of the opening.

I realize it isn't a Wire-level offense, but still how is it that Howie Mandel was nominated over Phil Keoghan? Howie freakin' Mandel?

Sent by Ellie | 6:09 PM | 9-22-2008

How sad the reviewer hasn't got a sense of humour! Forget the nominees! Josh Groban was absolutely brilliant!!! He should get a nomination next year for this spectacular performance. It was hilariously funny, creatively put together and executed with skill and genius ability. The range and diversity of Josh's voice combined with his dorky sense of fun and humour made this the best part of the entire show. Josh got it right when he said before his performance. "There's a lot of stuff that allows me to just be me, then there's a lot of stuff that allows me to let my multiple personalities to go play for a bit." That's why he's loved so much - he thinks and acts outside his box! He's a very hard act to follow - so multi-talented and diverse. He keeps breaking new ground - Keep up the good work, we love you for it Josh!

Sent by Jerusha | 6:28 PM | 9-22-2008

The opening made me wince. HORRIBLE. Ryan Seacrest was the worst of the worst.

Sent by Tim | 6:47 PM | 9-22-2008

I would say the grumpy and irritated one is this writer. I didn't watch all of the show, only bits and pieces as I passed through the room - but then I never do. So I can't comment with any authority on the quality of this year's show. I did, however, watch the You Tube version of Groban's medley. I liked it. Alot.

Sent by Anita | 7:01 PM | 9-22-2008

The scuttlebut is that the five hosts couldn't agree on what to do for an opening (or for anything really) -- but isn't that why you have directors and producers and writers? Since when do we rely on the talent to come up with their own act? The director should retroactively lose the Emmy he won for directing the Oscars -- he clearly wasn't doing his job last night.

Sent by Jon | 7:08 PM | 9-22-2008

I liked the Groban medley, too. Not being really familiar with his work, I was impressed with his ability to closely mimic characters' voices. Poysonally, I thought it was entertaining. Or, perhaps I was just aching for something better than the unprepared hosts' prattling. At least most of the presenters had grace enough to get on with it!
Also, what's the deal with awarding the directors of other awards shows at awards shows? It's very gratuitous. Plus, if the winner of the Academy awards show made the decision to cut off the acceptance speeches that even began to imply criticism of George Bush, he ought not be nominated again.

Sent by nprnerd1000 | 7:13 PM | 9-22-2008

I thought Groban was the highlight of the whole show, at least he was animated! It did get pretty weird. I can't believe the Wire didn't win.

Sent by Carolyn Furman | 7:16 PM | 9-22-2008

I love watching award shows so could fully appreciate how bad a job the five hosts did. Luckily I have a dvr and could fast forward through most of their parts.

Sent by Robin | 7:45 PM | 9-22-2008

Was Team Lachey unavailable?

Sent by Anne | 8:05 PM | 9-22-2008

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I made money all through high school, along with my manager, being challenged at singing random TV theme songs from memory. I personally will enjoy this medley forever.

Sent by James Walker | 9:23 PM | 9-22-2008

Thought Josh Groban was lighthearted and fun! Quite a versatile entertainer and he has a stupendous voice!

Sent by Jackie | 11:11 PM | 9-22-2008

Got to admit I kind of dug this. The least you can say is that it looked darned hard to pull off. Didn't watch Emmys last night but this was fun. Don't need to see it again, mind you -- but for heaven's sake. It's a TV award show. You don't expect Tristan and Isolde.

Sent by mara | 11:24 PM | 9-22-2008

Josh Groban's medley was the highlight of the Emmy's--a real tour de force and so much fun to watch and hear. Josh is incredibly talented, witty, and just plain brilliant!!

Sent by Harriet | 11:56 PM | 9-22-2008

how embarrassing!

Sent by k | 12:26 AM | 9-23-2008

Jeeeeeeez you guys, ease off on Linda. I don't think you read her other work; she has a marvelous sense of humor and I find her incredibly insightful, even if I don't agree (although, in this case, I do agree with her assessment of the Emmys). And for the record, I'm in my mid 20s, so unless I've aged out of the humor bracket, I don't think she's chasing any demographic away.

I liked Don Rickles too, and I also adore Steve Martin, and last night was no exception. I thought Heidi Klum stripping on stage was a bit much. "Hi, I'm terrible at this and can't put a sentence together, but I sure am hott! Seen and not heard, woo!" Sigh.

Sent by F. McGee | 12:36 AM | 9-23-2008

it wasn't bad but still awkward ... it flows pretty nicely but didn't make me laugh or the crowd laugh for that matter. i don't mind the awkward funny like in family guy, but the Groban thing didn't even bring up an uncomfortable laugh. it was hard to watch.

also: why do people not have a sense of humor if they didn't laugh at this? it honestly wasn't that funny, but not to the failure point. it was close though. the only good part of it was that it flowed nicely.

and what's with all the Groban haters he's a great singer.

Sent by caveboy0 | 1:29 AM | 9-23-2008

The Emmy's are just one big joke. The Wire not nominated in any of the acting categories? Not nominated for best drama? What is that about? Mad Med gets nominated and Wire does not. Hhhhmmm. Now what's wrong with this picture.

Sent by Carmen | 1:58 AM | 9-23-2008

Well, I just watched the YouTube of the Groban performance.


Sent by Marielle | 2:54 AM | 9-23-2008

I really Loved the Groban Medley.. and up to now I've been no fan of the singer..but his segment was really cool, brilliantly executed and hilarious. I agree that this was the highlight of the whole show.

Sent by Katie | 7:36 AM | 9-23-2008

I was only able to watch a few seconds of the medley before I fled in horror. If I wanted to hear TV themes warbled that bad, I'd throw my TV in the pool.

Sent by HughJass | 8:14 AM | 9-23-2008

I found the Groban medley so embarrassing that I actually had to change the channel. And the "we have nothing" opening bit was almost as bad. Seriously, this is the best they can come up with?

Sent by Jen | 8:16 AM | 9-23-2008

What? No mention of the announcer being cued to cut off Kirk Ellis in midsentence when his thank-you threatened to slip into political territory?

Sent by mvg | 8:50 AM | 9-23-2008

My view of the medley is colored by being thoroughly and utterly sick of Josh Groban in general (particularly the, "You raise me uuuuuuuuuuuuup!" song), so I hardly think I am the impartial one. But I think I can fairly say it was a really weird idea.

Sent by Katie | 8:57 AM | 9-23-2008

As someone who has been reading Linda's reviews, recaps and commentaries for years, I can vouch for her sharp sense of humor.

I'm surprised it's Groban's performance that is everyone is talking about. I have no opinion on it because when I heard his name, I went into the other room to check email.

I do disagree with everyone who questions why Howie was nominated. He and Tom Bergeron on true hosts -- their presence is required to move the show along and keep it all together. Probst, Heidi, and even the unnominated Phil (whom I adore), don't contribute a lot to their shows.

What I want to know is what is up with Probst's hair. Is he joining the cast of Little Rascals?

Sent by Marcia | 9:50 AM | 9-23-2008

I didn't think that the medley was bad -it would be for those that didn't watch those shows, but it showed the talent of Josh Groban to be that flexible with his singing talent. If the overall show was better, I am sure he wouldn't have gotten the criticism that he did this time.

Sent by Shelby | 9:58 AM | 9-23-2008

I am dumbfounded by your opinion of Josh's medley performance. It was better than brilliant.....

Sent by Scjosher | 10:16 AM | 9-23-2008

i'm as snarky as the next guy or gal but actually, given that this was the emmys...
It wasn't *that* bad.

Sent by kelley | 10:50 AM | 9-23-2008

I was actually enjoying the first hour of the emmmys....except for the opening spiel by the quintet of hosts....probably because I was looking forward to the Groban medley so much. And he didn't disappoint. The man has a fabulous voice and a great sense of humour. After that the show fell sadly flat and I turned it off.....

Sent by Julie | 10:59 AM | 9-23-2008

It's official -- these really were the worst Emmys ever. Or, at any rate, the least watched. This year's show had had an audience that was "12% below last year's previous Emmy record low," according to

Sent by Joe M., NPR | 11:20 AM | 9-23-2008

One of the high points of the show was Josh Groban and his medley of theme songs. He showed us his brilliant goofy, funny, silly side--and did it with such class. I too loved Laura Lindley's and Tom Hank's comments. Don Rickles still has it!! Again, thank you Josh for the 4-1/2 minutes of brilliant entertainment. It was the only reason I watched the Emmys.

Sent by Joanie | 11:27 AM | 9-23-2008

I agree that Josh Groban didn't give the worst performance ever. It was actually decent except that the mishmash of songs was ... well irritating to say the least. But he's still not a Britney at the VMA's or an Ashley Simpson on Saterday Night Live. Step it up Mr. Groban!

Sent by Jerome | 12:58 PM | 9-23-2008

I actually laughed at the kick line to "Suicide is Painless". By that time a laugh was welcome. I think the problem with the montage is Josh Grobin. He's a syrupy performer. Someone with a good enough voice & comedic sense would have been much better. Steve Martin, maybe. Remember "King Tut"?

Sent by David Lee Beebe, Jr. | 1:25 PM | 9-23-2008

I liked the medley. But yeah, the M*A*S*H thing was all kinds of wrong.

Sent by Mo | 1:31 PM | 9-23-2008

What's this guy talking about? The Groban thing was funny, BECAUSE it was so bad (and the fact that someone was trying so very hard - and failing - to be funny). I, personally, was dying (of laughter) when I watched the thing, especially the heartfelt Carol Burnett/Cheers ending. Awww! So sweet (demented).

Sent by Jenn | 1:54 PM | 9-23-2008

Is Dancing With The Stars more a modern day variety show than a reality show? Afterall, there are stars in the show who bring in the viewers; if it werent't for the stars would we watch the professionals dance? And the show provides a little humor much like the variety shows of the past. What constitutes a show being a reality show?

Sent by Stef | 2:17 PM | 9-23-2008

I am not a fan of really any award show. They don't really seem to award shows that I am interested in anyways. But the Medley song was pretty cool.

Sent by Derek | 2:47 PM | 9-23-2008

I loved the Josh Groban medly. I'm not usually a fan of his music but I thought he did great, especially with South Park and Fresh Prince, which is so not his norm. Well done, josh!

Sent by Tom | 4:01 PM | 9-23-2008

Josh Groban is a brilliant and multi-talented performer. There is nothing that anyone can say that can change that.

Sent by Anne | 7:46 PM | 9-23-2008

I think this is the *only* Josh Groban song (medley, whatever) I've ever liked, but M*A*S*H* seemed a bit forced in there.

I didn't actually pay attention to the rest of the show because of the raging stomach flu. I consider myself lucky in that regard.

Sent by Ryan | 1:41 AM | 9-24-2008

I thought the Josh Groban thing was annoying, because I think Groban is annoying. I just don't have any love, I guess, for that saccharine thing he's got going. I agree with the person who said Steve Martin would have been great at it; he's got that irony thing harnessed. Too bad Tom Lehrer isn't performing anymore, because he could have made that amazing.

Sent by F. McGee | 7:53 AM | 9-24-2008

Considering that this is not what you typically expect from Groban, he did a pretty good job pulling it off. Try doing something out of your comfort zone -- easier said than done.

Sent by skyfox63 | 1:47 PM | 9-24-2008

Having finally seen The Wire, that show should have dominated the emmys for the last 5 years. Every single actor on that show should have been nominated. The fact that this show was ignored, tells me how little anyone should care about the emmys.

Sent by Stacy | 1:47 PM | 9-25-2008