By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
In the right time and place, Jimmy Kimmel can be a very funny man.
Unfortunately, last night was not the time -- and the Emmys were clearly not the place.
It's easy to see why the people behind ABC's Emmy broadcast Sunday turned to Kimmel, the current darling of the Hollywood crowd (as you can tell by how willing they were to play along in his taped bits) and the host of what has become the most entertaining of the late-night shows. But even had Kimmel been at this best -- and he wasn't -- the outsider act that works so well for him on his own show was out of place in a job that makes you, like it or not, the ultimate insider.
Anyone who watches his show no doubt entered the Emmys with high enough hopes to carry them through a good but not great opening monologue. But with each odd dismissive introduction of a presenter, with each strained bit, hope sank.
To be sure, the Emmys have seen much worse. (In case you'd forgotten the disaster that was the Year of the Five Reality Hosts, Kimmel reminded you in his opening taped skit.) The bar for award show hosts is set fairly low -- don't embarrass yourself, don't annoy us and get out of the way -- and Kimmel did manage to hurdle it.
But from a man this talented, we should expect more than a flat social media prank starring a disheveled Tracy Morgan or a spoof of in-memoriam salutes that served only to remind us that he had already done a borderline bad-taste joke about The Andy Griffith Show.
What you're left with once again is yet another awards show that seemed determined to convince us that its awards weren't worth winning. Why rush the winners through their speeches and then make us watch as they pose for pictures? Why make the nominated writers and directors answer insipid questions -- a game designed to tell us that their categories are too boring to matter, and a game Louis C.K., to his great credit, refused to play.
Sure, some of it worked. The Modern Family stunt with a bad-seed little Lily reinforced the cast's rights to Emmy dominance. Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus pretending to switch acceptance speeches was amusing, if a bit ungracious. And let's thank the crowd for sparing us the Queen for a Day applause during the in-memoriam segment -- and the director for getting the show in on time, though we'd be even more grateful if he'd done it by cutting out bits rather than cutting off winners.
Still, too much of the broadcast smacked of a yearning-to-be-hip desperation, born out of some self-loathing desire to appeal to people who don't care about the Emmys. But they're not watching. They're never going to watch. You're just making the people who do watch feel stupid for watching.
The shame is, it was a fairly good year for the awards themselves. Yes, many of the wins were predictable -- Modern Family, Homeland, Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Maggie Smith, Julie Bowen, The Amazing Race and Louis C.K. among them -- but they were predictable precisely because they were so well-deserved. What, should the voters pick lesser winners just so we'd be surprised?
And speaking of surprises, the night did produce one that will go down with Emmy's biggest: Jon Cryer's win for Two and a Half Men. Not that Cryer isn't a terrific actor, but a win for that show in this season really makes you think he was rewarded less for performing than for surviving.
Maybe he should be the next Emmy host. After all, a talent for survival may be the job's top requirement.