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Phoebe Waller-Bridge poses in the press room at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, at the Microsoft Theater, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 22, 2019.Jordan Strauss/The Associated Press

The decision to go host-free for Sunday’s Emmy Awards was wrong. The show dragged and slumped, not at all what the hostless Academy Awards turned out to be on the night. And the fast overnight ratings picture proves the point – the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox (CTV in Canada) had 25 per cent less viewership than last year’s show.

During the red carpet fandango, which went on for as long as the awards presentation itself, Sarah Silverman took a little shot at the Television Academy for opting not to have a host. “They’re afraid of comedians, “ she said. Later during the telecast, she feigned sleep in her seat.

Fair point. And it’s a telltale sign, this move toward no-host awards shows. It’s a sign of a polarized country and culture. A breezy host, full of sarcastic remarks can get the attention of President Trump, and we all know what one of his Twitter rants can do. At the same time, the choice of a host is tricky in a time when the past actions and social media comments of a comedian will be scrutinized and ructions will follow.

The Fox network tactic for getting around the no-host thing was to have actor/comedian Thomas Lennon in a booth doing snarky voiceovers. Often the viewer couldn’t hear what he was saying. When they did, it was sometimes jaw-droppingly dumb. Among other unwise witticisms, he called Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge “Britain’s most popular bridge” and referred to the HBO series Chernobyl as the “little nuclear disaster that could.”

There was another sign of the sheer messiness of the broadcast when one of the winners for Chernobyl went onstage accompanied by upbeat disco music. See, not only was there no host, but there was no orchestra. It was up to some incompetent DJ to add mostly inappropriate music.

Still, mention of Chernobyl brings us to the true value of this year’s Emmy Awards. For the most part, quality shows and performances won. That is, there were truly deserving winners. Fleabag, an original groundbreaking female-centric dark comedy on Amazon Prime Video, won several. HBO’s Barry won. HBO’s Succession won, an acknowledgment that the drama, which had a slow start in terms of audience and critical attention, is magnificent drama. Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, outstanding as the show’s villain, won after being bizarrely overlooked last year.

Many shows and performances were surprise wins but commendable decisions. Julia Garner won the award for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for her work in Netflix’s Ozark. Garner, a first-time nominee, is an actress of sublime skill, having done glittering work on FX’s The Americans, Bravo’s Dirty John and Netflix’s Maniac. It was just truly remarkable that in her category she prevailed over four Game Of Thrones actors.

Game of Thrones won outstanding drama series, the climactic award of the night. This was expected, as an industry-wide acknowledgment of how the series had set an incredibly high standard and became a worldwide phenomenon. Mind you, other awards for GoT were thin on the ground, perhaps proving true a rumour in the TV industry that there was genuine disappointment with the show’s lame final season.

There were other elements of the awards-giving that were both well-deserved and highly peculiar. Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win outstanding lead actor in a drama, for Pose. Now that’s deserved. The first season of Pose, the one nominated for Sunday’s Emmy’s, was stellar, and a historic moment in TV history given its attention to gay and trans characters. The second season has been much less impressive and a severe disappointment.

TV Academy voters also continued their inexplicable devotion to Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, giving supporting actress and actor awards to Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub, respectively. Mrs. Maisel is a series that has long since become self-indulgent and meandering, however Borstein’s speech, about her grandmother surviving the Holocaust, was a standout on an emotionally monotonous evening.

The other standout speech, to judge by social media reaction and praise from other actors, was from Michelle Williams who deservedly won for FX’s Fosse/Verdon.

"The next time a woman and especially a woman of colour, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart, tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her,” Williams said. It was a rare moment of direct political and social commentary, on a night in which serious-minded TV scooped up many of the awards.

A reason for the lower-than-expected ratings was undoubtedly the lack of attention, let alone awards, for network TV series. Those are the shows a mass audience is familiar with. The big winner was HBO, with 32 awards. Netflix finished second with 27 and Amazon was third with 15.

But that can’t be the only reason for a ratings slump – the Emmy Awards as a telecast is in dire need of a rethink. For all the surprises and awards for real excellence, the show was a flop. It might be better next year because that’s how TV works. It better be, and the Academy could start by not being afraid of real comedians as hosts.

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