And The Emmy For Best (And Worst) Emmy Host Goes To….
Looking back at the awards show's most memorable and forgettable masters of ceremonies
Special To MSN TV
By Kenny Herzog
Even with an awards show airing virtually every night on any given network, the Primetime Emmys still capture our attention with rapture second only to Oscar buildup. This year's broadcast (airing Aug. 29 on NBC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) has rallied quite a bit of interest, thanks to an unexpectedly forward-thinking group of nominees, including nods for cult HBO drama "True Blood," critical-favorite ABC comedy "Modern Family" and "Saturday Night Live" vet Amy Poehler for her breakout performance in resurgent NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation."
But the biggest question mark for this year's 62nd Annual festivities is
whether host Jimmy Fallon will set an equally provocative and unpredictable tone
for the evening. An Emmy emcee can be like a magician entertaining children's
birthday parties, keeping their audience's attention with quick-witted banter
and assorted misdirection so they stick around for the final reveal. (By that
same line of thinking, they are also something of a human
Below are 10 Emmy hosts' past of meritorious acclaim, swept-under infamy or historical significance that can perhaps offer Fallon some direction about how to make their own mark on the proceedings, or at least not be a blemish.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (1952)
The first Emmy broadcast to honor shows made outside of Hollywood studios also made waves by selecting "I Love Lucy" power-couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as co-hosts. The pair's doe-eyed girl-meets "Babalu" conga-king routine no doubt had the audience in stitches, but Ball and the show's well-rounded dominance of the evening with wins for Best Comedienne and Outstanding Situation Comedy, respectively, also marked significant progress for women and minorities in television.
Johnny Carson (1971-'74)
Like the FDR of awards-show presiding, "Tonight Show" legend Carson was so good at his figurehead duties that he just kept being elected again and again. And while others on this list, such as Conan O'Brien, may have pulled a Grover Cleveland and hosted in non-consecutive years, Carson -- like FDR -- would be the only Emmy ambassador whose service was called upon for so many back-to-back terms.
Eddie Murphy and Joan Rivers (1983)
Call them the Lucy and Desi odd couple emissaries of the 35th Annual Emmys. The combination of an "SNL"/"Delirious"-era Eddie Murphy and pre-"Late Show"/Johnny Carson-feud debacle Joan Rivers makes for network TV that would still whet anticipation in 2010, even if Rivers has gotten more crass in her old age while Murphy has gone the comparatively demure route. Although the hotshot standup's funniest moment may have been his look of arrogant dismay when "Taxi" sideman Christopher Lloyd surpassed him for a Supporting Actor In A Comedy win.
Conan O'Brien (2002, '06)
Before the Jay Leno controversies and Team Coco-supported standup tours, soon-to-be TBS late-night host Conan O'Brien was the unspoken choice for America's funniest TV personality. And following a decade in which safe-players like Bryant Gumbel, Jenna Elfman and Paul Reiser presided over the boob tube's big night, O'Brien's self-effacing eccentricity -- particularly an opening skit that somehow squeezed in flirtation with Jennifer Anniston, a showdown with her then-husband Brad Pitt and romantic horse-ride on the beach with Garry Shandling -- was both welcome and needed.
Neil Patrick Harris (2009)
Fans of 1980s sitcoms may have been doing double takes seeing the artist formerly known as Doogie Howser, M.D. dancing and cracking wise across the Emmy stage. But NPH's appearance as last year's host was even more remarkable because it also represented the ceremony's first openly gay male emcee. And Harris didn't hold back. At one point during his show-stopping opening number, the actor hilariously quipped about preference for "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm over curvy sex symbol Christina Hendricks, no doubt eliciting agreeable applause from male and female viewers alike.
Raymond Burr (1959)
Stone-faced "Perry Mason" portrayer Raymond Burr may have been a popular choice that year, and would in fact win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Dramatic Role in the midst of his hosting duties. Unfortunately, Burr could only look on quizzically during a presentation that really stole the show: Elaine May and Mike Nichols' still-cutting, satirical recognition of a made-up Hollywood mogul (played by Nichols) known for "producing garbage" and being "a total mediocrity."
Bryant Gumbel (1997)
Perhaps in a year in which "Frasier" would best "Seinfeld" for Outstanding Comedy, the Academy determined it was best to keep the proceedings at a safely middling level. Former "Today Show" host Bryant Gumbel, never known to elicit a chuckle, even stated to the New York Times that when the evening arrived, "'I'll do what I do. I'm not going to do anything out of character. It will be a dignified affair. And it was certainly no coincidence that his new show for CBS, who were airing the 49th Annual Emmys, was slated to debut a few weeks later. Subsequently, the broadcast was forced to lean heavily on the sort of between-awards skits and song-and-dance numbers that have become anathema to audiences in years since.
No Host (1975, '98)
After all, how do you follow up a successful multi-year, early '70s run by Johnny Carson? Or in the case of '98's emcee-less affair, recover from the previous year's dubious choice of Gumbel to humorlessly helm three hours of self-congratulatory trophy peddling?
Angela Lansbury (1993)
We feel badly picking at the "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "Murder She Wrote" national treasure. But given that the 45h Annual Emmys also signified the Academy's first selection of a solo female host, they could have chosen someone with a bit more modern appeal, such as the following year's co-hostesses, Ellen DeGeneres.
Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Howie Mandel, Tom Bergeron and Ryan Seacrest
Apparently, it was determined that "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest didn't hold his own the prior year. So naturally, they surrounded him with four other less-than-self-sustaining reality and game-show personalities for 2008. Unfortunately, the grouping of these five small-screen emissaries felt more like an awkward concession to reality's stronghold on TV viewers' homes than a carefully selected handful of charismatic talents.
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