Last year, when the Emmy Awards were emceed by the very sleepy duo of Colin Jost and Michael Che, it felt like the show had no host at all. Over the course of the evening, the two Saturday Night Live comedians would occasionally saunter onstage, stand listlessly, and recite jokes as if they were being held hostage. This year’s Emmys, perhaps as a reaction to that lethargic affair, dispensed with hosts altogether, instead jumping from award to award with nary a transition. But if anything, this approach created a whole new problem: Rather than having one pair of awkward presenters, the ceremony ended up trotting out dozens.
Every televised awards show leans on odd-couple celebrity pairings to hand out trophies, a job that requires reading scripted banter from cue cards to pad out the moment before announcing a list of names. But because the Emmys copied this year’s Oscars and decided not to hire a host, the awkward repartee was all that remained. The proceedings got so fetid that when James Corden took the stage to present a category, he offered to throw away whatever lines had been written for him and get right to business. The crowd roared its approval.
The point of an official emcee, who introduces an awards show with a long, jokey monologue and then occasionally bursts in to pep things up throughout the night, was much debated earlier this year. The Academy Awards, after struggling to find a host, hired and quickly dismissed Kevin Hart, then decided to go without an emcee for the first time in decades. The result was a little dry, but brisk by Oscar standards and free of catastrophe, so it was largely deemed a success. But that decision made more sense for the Academy Awards; the movie industry doesn’t have the wide talent pool that the TV world has when it comes to hosting personalities.
This year’s Emmys featured a procession of people who could easily have taken the emcee gig. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel took the stage together and joked at length about the importance of their jobs and what they could have brought to the show had they been hired. Ike Barinholtz and Maya Rudolph did an iffy, malapropism-filled double act as they pretended to be temporarily blind from LASIK surgery. Ken Jeong spent his five minutes onstage filming a TikTok. Seth Meyers was, somewhat bizarrely, called out only to eulogize the dearly departed HBO series Game of Thrones (the show’s cast then lined up onstage to awkwardly convey their thanks as a group).
Half of this year’s jokes were about how the Emmys needed saving, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. If any of the comedians I mentioned in the last paragraph had been handed a hosting gig, they could have brought in their own writers, crafted a real monologue, and given the broadcast some cohesion and personality. Instead, those performers were trotted out for a few minutes, handed some rote zingers, and forced to move on to the next thing. The ceremony didn’t get shorter as a result; it only became more bloated, thanks in part to a slew of dull montages, salutes to shows such as Thrones and Veep, and appearances from the new cast of the Fox series The Masked Singer.
Last night’s Emmys should be a crucial lesson for awards shows going forward, especially with the Oscars race beginning this fall. Live television events such as these work only if they’re memorable; people don’t tune in just to see which group of millionaires got the golden statues and remembered to thank their agent this year. Proper hosts have a much better chance of generating well-crafted, enduring moments. Lin-Manuel Miranda taking the stage to present a trophy and reading the dictionary definition of the word variety isn’t one of them.