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From the moment he took the stage, rookie Emmy Awards host Seth Meyers was all about playing it safe. It may not be the bravest plan for a comedian who lands one of the most coveted hosting gigs in the world, but it was definitely a shrewd plan.
Seeing red at the Emmy Awards
The stars of television splashed the red carpet with colourful outfits as they headed into the 66th annual Emmy Awards.
Meyers came to the gig in the wake of some of its best hosts in recent memory: Neil Patrick Harris, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch and Jimmy Fallon. And while the Emmys have not enjoyed the giddy heights of Golden Globes, which had Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, nor have they hit the Oscars' lows, with Seth McFarlane, Alec Baldwin and James Franco.
Indeed, the fact that Meyers was one of the writers who worked on Fey and Poeher's outstanding turns at hosting the Golden Globes was surely enough to give him a free pass.
Without the international profile some of his peers enjoy, the US late night talk show host tackled some easy targets up front - himself, host broacdaster NBC, iconic cable channel HBO and Emmy "category fraud", one of the simmering issues at the periphery of the 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
"HBO is like the kid you never thought would amount to anything ... I remember when all they had was Grease 2 and Fraggle Rock," he said. Turning his aim to "category fraud" he added: "We've had comedies that made you cry and dramas that made you laugh because the comedies were submitted as dramas and dramas as comedies."
In that sense, Meyers was schooled shrewdly in the Ricky Gervais style: try not to bite the hand that feeds you, but by all means, while you're on stage, take it gently in your jaw and gnaw firmly on it. Joined by Amy Poehler at one point, mocking the double act Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, he was in his element.
As an overall package, the 66th annual Emmy Awards moved at a cracking pace. Short speeches, with some notably brilliant ones, such as Modern Family director Gail Manusco's. There were surprises: a win for Benedict Cumberbatch, and not Billy Bob Thornton or Martin Freeman? Emmy voters, what were you thinking? (More to the point, what were you watching while Fargo was on?)
There were also some brilliant moments, such as talk show host Jimmy Kimmel who, engaging with nominee Matthew McConaughey from the stage, very nearly showed up the host. "You look so fat since the Oscars," he joked, demanding to know why McConaughey was even nominated for TV.
"He doesn't even own a television," Kimmel declared. "You were great in True Detective, but you just won an Oscar five months ago. How many of those speeches do we have to sit through?"
There were also some flat moments, such as the open question session with the audience. "Where is the bathroom?" "Are we on TV?" "Will my car get towed?" Each question was slightly more excruciating that the one before it, and each one took a fairly funny runaway train and applied the emergency brake, harder and harder. Toss onto that fire Weird Al Yankovic's homage to expositional TV theme songs, which sat somewhere between inexplicable and unexplainable.
And, yet, when the occasion warranted, the 2014 Emmys were touching. Among those honoured in the "in memoriam" segment were Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the housekeeper in The Brady Bunch, Ralph Waite, who played TV dad John Walton in The Waltons, James Garner, the star of The Rockford Files, and icons Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Lauren Bacall.
The tribute for Robin Willams, introduced by his friend Billy Crystal, was powerful, loaded with the gravitas that many viewers - who would have tuned into the Emmys just for that segment - would have expected. It was a gentle, intimate moment, infinitely stronger for its lack of ambition, which appropriately farewelled a beloved man whose artistry, vision and madness touched many lives.
"He made us laugh, hard," Crystal said. "He could be funny anywhere. As genius as he was on stage, he was the greatest friend you could ever imagine: supportive, protective, loving. It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present, in all of our lives. For almost 40 years he was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy."