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Emmys sorely lacking in laughs and excitement

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Bryan Cranston accepts the award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series for his role in Breaking Bad during the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. His co-stars Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul also won for their supporting roles and the show took home an Emmy for outstanding drama series.

He promised a no-gimmicks opening, and Seth Meyers delivered just that -- a strictly old-school, straight-from-the-cue-cards, absolutely-no-singing-dancing-or-video-gags monologue that ground out a few laughs but brought nothing in the way of excitement to the top of Monday's broadcast of the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards.

After a very brief clip-snippet countdown, Meyers -- host of NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers and former anchor of SNL's Weekend Update segment -- strode onstage in a traditional tuxedo and launched into an eight-minute opening monologue so conventional that it would have been more suited to 10:35 or 11:35 p.m. than in a prime-time show, awards-oriented or otherwise.

Meyers poked fun at the Emmys' non-Sunday-night scheduling -- a byproduct, mostly, of NBC's lucrative commitment to the Sunday Night Football franchise -- offering the historical note that the last time TV's awards were seen on a non-weekend night was 1976 -- "Of course, nobody remembers the 1976 Emmys -- because they were held on a Monday."

It's likely that no one will remember the 2014 Emmy Awards either, but not because of the show's football-fuelled scheduling quirk. These Emmys will be quickly forgotten because, well, they were pretty darned forgettable.

There were a few inspired spontaneous moments in the broadcast, which actually clocked in at just under three hours, but for the most part, the 66th Emmys -- which by night's end had become something of a farewell celebration for Breaking Bad -- seemed determined to follow the form chart, both in terms of the show's format and, with a few exceptions, the very familiar list of winners it produced.

Presenter Jimmy Kimmel shook things up a bit in the early going by seemingly veering off script to poke some movie-star-at-the-TV-awards fun at Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey (and, in his final parting shot, fellow big-screener Julia Roberts).

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston -- once co-stars on that Seinfeld thing (he guested as dentist Tim Whatley) -- did their best to inject some laughs, creating some off-the-cuff fun that started when they presented together and ended during her best actress/comedy acceptance speech.

Other presenter pairings, however, were less successful. The highest-profile of the night, True Detective co-stars (and best actor co-nominees) Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, served up imitations of each other and then descended into some behind-the-scenes showbiz riffing that left even them wondering aloud, "A bit too inside?" Yes, it was.

Meyers had a bit of success with a taped "For a Dollar" bit he did on the streets of New York City with fellow funnyman Billy Eichner, but fared less well with an audience Q&A bit that felt as lame as that Ellen/Oscars selfie moment. And the inclusion of "Weird Al" Yankovic in the show, as the performer of a TV theme-song parody medley, was simply puzzling.

Presenter and soon-to-be Late Night host Stephen Colbert's imaginary-friend gag fell so flat that it must have left some at his new network home, CBS, wondering if they've made the right post-Letterman choice.

Without question, the most anticipated part of Monday's Emmys was the "In Memoriam" segment, which included a tribute to Robin Williams delivered by longtime friend and frequent collaborator Billy Crystal. After Sarah Bareilles' haunting rendition of Smile provided the background for the obligatory slide show roll call of the departed, Crystal appeared onstage beneath a huge image of Williams.

He struck just the right balance by sharing a few deeply personal memories and anecdotes, but it was really the first sentence he spoke that summed up his friend's career best: "He made us laugh, hard."

There was an actual (well, sort of) local shout-out moment in Monday's show: After the FX series Fargo (which airs in Canada on FXX, which is still not available to Shaw and MTS customers in Winnipeg) won for best movie/miniseries, series creator/writer Noah Hawley called the show a great experience and followed with "Let's do it again." That prompted producer Kim Todd (of Winnipeg-based Original Pictures), who was part of the inevitable onstage cast/crew throng, to respond with an audible and enthusiastic "Yes, please!" (Season 2 of Fargo will be shot in and around Calgary this winter, with Todd once again acting as one of its producers).

It was a level of excitement that few viewers at home would have experienced while watching the rest of this year's Emmys show. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2014 C1

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