This year, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Emmy Awards, NBC will allot four full hours, rather than the usual three, to the ceremonies scheduled to begin Sunday at 7 p.m.
There will be many features designed to hold a TV audience's attention for the evening, including vintage clips from award-nights past, trivia quizzes and a selection of the greatest moments in TV history.
But veteran viewers of such proceedings and the people who produce them know that nothing can bring a lull to an awards show quicker than a boring acceptance speech. When a winner approaches the microphone and pulls out a legal-size sheet of paper and starts by thanking, say, a nanny from childhood, you know that the hands holding those remote controls are getting twitchy.
Don Mischer, who's produced Emmy, Tony and Kennedy Center Honors award programs, acknowledged the problem.
"I think nothing bores people more than seeing a winner come up there and unfold a piece of paper and start thanking, you know, the agents, the manager, the dog and so forth," he said.
Probably the most-anticipated aspects of an award show are the clothes worn by the stars, the suspense surrounding who will win and what will happen when the winner takes the stage. Will he or she say or do something outrageous, funny or moving? Probably not if 29 of the allotted 30 seconds are given to a laundry list of thanks to people known only to them.
"We've thought about how we can do this but do it with respect," said Mischer. "If someone wins an Emmy, it can be the high point of their career. It's one of the greatest moments of their life, and I feel real strange going up to them and saying, 'Look, (if you win) don't mention your dog or your agent or whatever.' It's somewhat presumptuous on my part to do that. It's going to be hard to influence that."
Meryl Marshall, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which awards the Emmy, noted that the thank-yous can be contagious.
"When one person thanks his wife, everyone else figures they can't go home without doing the same," she said.
The academy hopes to impress nominees with the historical significance of the Emmy -- "the company they're keeping" by being nominated and possibly winning, she said. "We hope to create an emotional show in which everyone will get swept up."
If, as appears likely, the show includes high points from past Emmy ceremonies, winners might take note of some of the nifty acceptance speeches that have been made in the past.
There was the time, for instance, when the diminutive Michael J. Fox said he was so happy, "I feel 4 feet tall."
And there was Sally Field's Oscar acceptance, in which she gushed, "You like me!"
"What we want is for people to come up there and talk about how they feel," said Mischer. "If they do that, it would be very helpful."
Mischer has a laundry list of his own of features he wants to pack into the four-hour show -- which he promises will not run past 11 p.m. Eastern time. (He recalled that one telecast, scheduled for the standard three hours, ran over by 45 minutes.)
For a show that now seems so uncontainable, the Emmy Awards began in very modest fashion on Jan. 25, 1949, honoring the 1948 shows. At first, Mischer said, it featured six awards and was broadcast only in Los Angeles. (The ceremony went national in 1955.) The award categories have grown since then and taken on odd forms along the way -- one 1950 category was for the Most Outstanding Male Performer Seen Only in Los Angeles Except for Occasional Guest Shot Appearances Elsewhere.
The program will use the anniversary and extra time to look back on television itself, as well as the Emmys.
Ten television milestones, selected through a survey of journalists, will be spotlighted throughout the show.
In the aftermath of "Seinfeld's" long good-bye, shows that had long runs and emotional farewells will be recalled.
Current stars will recall the TV personalities who inspired them.
Look for a montage of TV programming mistakes -- this could mean clips from "Manimal"! -- plus a short film tracing the growth of the medium.
Perhaps the most ambitious project is a series of shorts from filmmakers James Moll and June Bealer, who toured the country asking Americans to describe television's impact upon their lives.
Moll and Bealer "were recommended by Steven Spielberg," said Mischer. "We're going to go out to workers on drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, up to Alaska, all over the place."
It figures to be an evening rich in nostalgia for viewers with lives and memories long enough to recall much of the last half-century. And it's an idea not lost on Mischer.
There will be, for instance, odd, funny moments from years past dropped into the evening.
"There is one moment in which Lucille Ball is reading the winner and there were, like, four or five envelopes on the table," Mischer recalled. "She couldn't figure out which one was the right one, and she (didn't) have her glasses. She asked for help, and Milton Berle came up. Those little moments. . . ."
HBO's chronicle of the United States' space program, "From the Earth to the Moon," leads contenders for the 50th annual Emmy Awards with a total of 17.
NBC leads networks with 86 nominations; HBO has 72, ABC 54 and CBS 36.
The show, airing from Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (Sunday at 7 on NBC), will look at the first half-century of television and some of its biggest stars. Producer Don Mischer will forgo a single host in favor of more presenter-actors.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented Emmys to winners in 55 creative arts categories during a non-televised ceremony Saturday, Aug. 29.
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