Katrina Can’t Dampen Spirits on Emmy Night

Sep 26, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The “57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards” in Los Angeles Sept. 18-just weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast-were considerably more jovial and less subdued than the last Emmys telecast to follow a national disaster, the 2001 show held after the 9/11 attacks.

“Primetime Emmy Awards” host Ellen DeGeneres acknowledged Katrina’s victims at the top of the telecast on CBS, but planned nods to the situation were scarce during the awards show. Just a handful of winners mentioned the disaster in their acceptance speeches.

Dressed in black, Ms. DeGeneres wore a magnolia-the state flower of Louisiana and Mississippi, which were both hit hard by the hurricane-in what she referred to as a show of support for Katrina victims.

She said it’s important to be able to laugh during troubled times.

The host speaks from experience. Ms. DeGeneres, who hails from Louisiana herself, drew rave reviews for hosting the Emmys in 2001, which were postponed twice after the attacks.

Presenters also wore magnolias during the 2005 show, but the attire overall was in line with the glamour of most years.

Once Katrina hit and disaster ensued, plans for the telecast had to be reconsidered, said Jack Sussman, senior VP of specials at CBS and the executive at the network overseeing the telecast.

“It was a challenge,” Mr. Sussman said.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which administers the Emmys, the telecast’s executive producer Ken Ehrlich and CBS agreed the show had to go on and still have humor and be celebratory while remaining respectful, he said.

“You couldn’t go ahead and ignore it, but you couldn’t go ahead and let it dominate the entire show,” Mr. Sussman said. “There was a happy medium, and Ellen took us there.”

Those who did choose to mention Katrina victims in their acceptance speech did so passionately. Patricia Arquette, who won for best lead actress in a drama series for her role in NBC’s “Medium,” said backstage that she “can’t sleep at night” lately because she is so distressed by the suffering of the hurricane victims.

Blythe Danner-the fifth award winner of the night-was first to talk about current events in an acceptance speech. She said her late husband, Bruce Paltrow, would have wanted her to.

“I know Bruce would want me to pay tribute to New Orleans, his favorite city, and all the Gulf Coast and our kids in Iraq. Let’s get the heck out of there,” said Ms. Danner in accepting her first Emmy, the supporting actress in a drama series trophy for her work on Showtime’s “Huff.” Ms. Danner was nominated for two other awards but did not win either.

Ms. Arquette echoed Ms. Danner during her acceptance speech and was particularly outspoken backstage. She said she has been involved in relief efforts backed by her show.

“I was one of a lot of people who did a little, and I want to do more,” she said of relief efforts. “This is like wartime. There’s a half a million people homeless overnight. All the poor, all the working poor who live paycheck to paycheck. … I know [Mississippi Sen.] Trent Lott’s gonna get a new house, but a lot of people are not. That’s not right. This is America. This is the richest country in the world.”

Stephen Hopkins, who won the Emmy for directing a miniseries or movie for his work on HBO’s “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” felt the wrath of Katrina firsthand. He is currently shooting the Warner Bros. film “The Reaping,” starring Hilary Swank, in Baton Rouge, La. Most of the crew are from the area and have lost everything, he said backstage. The production was evacuated to Austin, Texas, but Mr. Hopkins said he was planning to return to Baton Rouge the day after the Emmys ceremony.

In his speech he called the region “quite an inspiring place. You see so much selflessness and you see people really putting themselves on the line to help.”

Jane Alexander, who won an Emmy for her role as Sara Roosevelt in the HBO telefilm “Warm Springs,” alluded to a disappointment with the government during her speech and backstage.

“The Roosevelts never die. They were great leaders at a time when our nation needed great leaders,” Ms. Alexander said during her speech.

Backstage, the actress and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts added: “Leaders always come along at times of severe crisis, but I’m still waiting for the great leaders like the Roosevelts to come along today.”

Jon Stewart, known for skewering government officials, offered his take on the government response to the crisis in the Gulf Coast, but not during acceptance speeches for either of the two Emmys his Comedy Central series “The Daily Show” nabbed.

Before he returned to the stage to present the award for outstanding directing for a comedy series (the nod went to “Desperate Housewives'” Charles McDougall), Mr. Stewart offered a taped satirical skit in which he ranted against officials for their bungled response to Katrina but that had the look of being edited in a heavy-handed manner.

Among few other Katrina-related elements built into the show, Tyler James Williams, star of UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris,” appeared onstage with a child evacuee, 9-year-old Charles Evans, who lived in the flood-ravaged Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

In the introduction to a tribute to former network news anchors Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and the late Peter Jennings, Dick Askin, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which administers the Emmys, noted that TV’s powerful images of Katrina constituted a reminder of the impact and importance of television news.

Separately, King World’s syndicated newsmagazine “Inside Edition” sent New Orleans evacuees Veronica Brown and her daughter Sachell Brown to the telecast as its guests.”

Mr. Askin said backstage that it’s tough to strike the right tone for an awards show during difficult times, but that the Emmy team seemed to have pulled it off.

“I think we hit the right balance,” he said, noting that the television business already has mobilized with telethons and other relief efforts. “TV already stepped up. All in all I think we’re catching the right balance right now.”

Christopher Lisotta contributed to this report.