Backstage At The Emmies (a special guest report)
My former co-worker Rob Kutner--who just won an Emmy--recently sent out the following backstage report to his family and friends. With his kind permission, I'm reprinting it here.
The Emmys are held every year at the Shrine Auditorium, right in the ultra-glamorous, star-studded region of Los Angeles known as "South Central." The afternoon of the broadcast (it starts at 5pm, West Coast time), the whole area becomes a sea of limos. Reportedly, the demand is so high for them on this particular day, they have to be brought in from not only the rest of California, but from neighboring states as well. At any rate, the surreal spectacle outside your tinted window is of minority residents in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods watching this army of limos insert some of the nation's richest people, one by one, into their armed compound in the 'hood.
Two other couples joined us in our limo, rented for us by the show (the limo, not the couples -- my network would never spring for escorts), and it featured such amenities as Scotch, vodka, and tiny light bulb "stars" in the ceiling that inexplicably changed colors every few seconds. Weirdly for my wife Sheryl and me, the route taken from the hotel (where most of the show was staying -- we stayed in our L.A. apartment, nearby) to the Shrine took us right through our own neighborhood, where we've lived for nearly 7 years. We were being ferried like royalty past the Subway we frequent, the 7-11s we buy our Slurpees at, the shady art store we suspect is a front operation, even the restaurant I proposed to Sheryl in.
The limos pulled up at the metal detectors everyone has to go through. We shared the same detector as Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, as well as Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack from The Sopranos). Would that be technically considered a frisk with fame? Anyway, it was also fairly surreal to see all these people dressed to the nines forced to strip down to at least the sevens to clear the detectors. Fortunately, there were no paparazzi in the security tent asking celebs, "Who are you removing?"
But boy were there paparazzi the moment we stepped onto the actual carpet. Or, I should say, our section of it. That's right, even the red carpet has a velvet rope, dividing it into two sections: "Famous People" and "Everyone Else" (ex: comedy writers). Interestingly, the layout is such that the famous people walk alongside the paparazzi area, and the non-famous by the viewing stands full of manic fans, who must therefore scream over our heads to the arriving celebs. Presumably, the only reason they allow behind-the-camera folk on the carpet in the first place is to be a buffer between stars and screamers.
Every few seconds, there was a fresh upsurge of screams, followed by a nearly indiscernible chorus of someone's first name being shouted. Eventually, you give up trying to figure out who they're yelling for and try to spot for yourself. During our carpet walk, the biggest scream went to Tom Selleck. The ever-thickening William Shatner got a nice reception, too.
Once inside the auditorium, we were seated all the way to the right, 16 rows in. Just like last year, my agent once again had a better seat than I. Coolest of all, for me at least, was that I was seated right next to the actors Dennis Haysbert (President David Palmer from 24, Julianne Moore's love interest in Far From Heaven); and Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida from 24). Although, when Bernard wasn't listening, a co-worker and fellow 24 fan and I confided that neither of us could actually remember the actor's real name -- but also didn't want to address him as "Mr. Almeida."
Haysbert was a treat to sit with. For a portrayer of such stern characters, he couldn't stop smiling and chuckling. He told me that his 13-year-old son is a big fan of my show. And during a commercial break, when I broke out the Ziploc baggie of almonds I'd smuggled in for this all-day-without-food affair, he was grateful to be offered some -- telling me, in his trademark deep bass, "I love you, man."
And then, the moment that we'd been waiting months for, the moment when they announce the winner in your category. The presenter uttered that potentially exhilirating or depressing formula, "And the winner is..."
The moment of silence that came next seemed to last a few months in itself. And then, dispelling all the scenarios of gloom that were clustering in my head, the presenter said our name.
The 45 seconds or so that I stood up on that stage -- trying hard not to glance down at the front rows full of A-list faces looking up at us, not really hearing any or at least absorbing any of the words being said -- felt like they took only as long as a heartbeat. The entire experience just sears onto your memory like one quick, breathless flash of light.
After accepting the award, we were ushered backstage, where we quickly dissolved into a cluster of people jabbering excitedly into their cell phones. My parents, unsurprisingly, were whooping it up. They informed me that their rabbis had TIVO'ed me on the broadcast. You know, at the end of the day, that's who we're really doing it for: the tech-savvy rabbis. But soon, my folks excused themselves -- they wanted to free up the line for the expected stream of congratulatory calls. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach my brother in Guntersville, Alabama at the time, as his wife informed me he was "out hunting." Come on, bro, watching Hollywood pat itself on the back... feeding your family... get your priorities straight!
Next, we were ushered to the tent where you actually pick up your statues (because it was specifically for writing, each of the writers gets his own). On a card table stood scores of blank, identical Emmy statues, for which they send you a band with your specific information later. Once we signed our names, we were each handed one globe-bearing, wing-sprouting shiny "escort" for the rest of the night.
The statue itself is surprisingly unwieldy -- it's 18 inches tall and weighs 20 pounds, with two wings sharp enough to, at one point, actually cut my hand. The Academy actually gives you a printed instruction sheet explaining how you should and should not hold it (not by the legs -- by the skirt).
Now all the time we were picking up our statues, and watching the rest of the broadcast on a monitor, Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell was standing around with a camera crew, looking bored. We were Emmy winners, sure, but not famous enough to merit turning the cameras on. But just then, Sharon Stone breezed in. Although neither a winner nor nominee, Stone had the star power that -- when combined with our awards -- totaled up to enough interest for Access Hollywood.
The cameras came on, and suddenly Stone -- who seemed to have no idea who we were or what we won for (Her closing cheer was, "Yay, Emmy-winning guys!") -- spoke off-the-cuff to O'Dell fluidly and charmingly about the Emmys, how great it was to be there, etc. Surrounding her were eleven bespectacled, fairly nerdy guys, tongue-tied at being this close to a real-live sex symbol (in a tight dress and braless no less). One of us finally broke the silence by murmuring, "You smell pretty." Stone chided us, with cameras still rolling, for being writers with nothing prepared to say. My thought at the time -- probably the only time these words will ever cross my consciousness -- "Hey, Sharon Stone's got a point." By the way, as great a moment of TV as that sounds, I don't believe it made Access's final cut. However, if anyone happens to have caught it, and happens to have TIVO'ed it, please let me know. I can't rely on my parents' rabbis for everything.
Next, we were taken into the photography room. There we stood on a small temporary stage while something like 40 photographers bombarded us with hundreds of flashes, yelled at us repeatedly to "get in tighter" and "look over here" and -- in one man's case -- yelled out "Mazal Tov!"
Afterwards was another room and a "press conference," which basically entailed us standing behind our show's host as he fielded the questions, smiling and nodding. Some of the same journalists were there as last year, asking some of the same questions: "Why doesn't the show have any women writers?" "What kind of impact do you think you'll have on the election?" "How do you keep the show fresh?" and one hard-hitting uppercut: "What do you think of Britney's marriage over the weekend?" Actually, that was the second time the question was asked in just under five minutes. Just moments before, Mark McGrath -- the former "Sugar Ray" singer now turned reporter for Extra! -- had asked; in both cases, the reply was a calm, sincere, "I don't give a f--k."
At that point, released of our promotional duties, we made our way back into the auditorium, passing through a gauntlet of temporary interview setups for radio and TV shows. The most bizarre was Entertainment Tonight's Steve "Cojo" Cojocaru in what looked like a beige corduroy suit, standing next to a fake waterfall forlornly, waiting for someone fabulous enough to merit an interview.
To get back to our seats, however, we first had to pass through the lobby, which -- thanks to the numerous cash bars and opportunities to leave during commercial breaks -- was filled with people milling around. As we walked through with our statues, numerous women in slinky dresses would come up to us, coo over them, and sometimes ask to have their pictures taken with them (and, if need be, us). More than one literally asked 'Can I touch it?" For most of us brood of former class clowns, it was not a question we were accustomed to hearing from members of the opposite sex who aren't bound to us by marriage.
But the advantage of having the statue in hand --risk of sharp-wing-injury notwithstanding -- is that you gain something I call "Emmy chutzpah." You can go up and introduce yourself to anyone, and they magically have to talk to you. Throughout the course of the evening and the Governors' Ball banquet afterwards (named after the Governors of the Academy, not Ahnold), I Emmy-chutzpahduced myself to David Cross, Conan O'Brien, Jerry Bruckheimer, Zach Braff and Jay Mohr. Mohr was at the Emmys as a presenter, not a nominee, so he kind of got excited about my statue, asking to hold it. I let him and, for my part, asked for an autograph. It took Mohr nearly five minutes, and three tries, to finish signing his name. The holdup: another horde of slinkstresses, wanting to have their picture taken with Jay Mohr -- holding my Emmy.
Eventually, we all made it back to our seats and our long-abandoned spouses. Last year, I had come back to my seat to find Sheryl next to a seat-filler (seat-fillers move in to fill a vacated seat, so the camera doesn't ever see empty seats). This year, fortunately, no seat filler. But within moments, they were asking all the winners to go back up to the stage for a final group picture. On the way up, I bumped my statue into James Spader's elbow -- call that a brush with greatness turned violent.
The third greatest moment of the evening -- right behind feeding almonds to President Palmer and those unmatchable 45 seconds on stage -- was waiting backstage this final time, when we were thrust into close quarters with the cast and writers of freshly crowned Best Comedy "Arrested Development." Not only is it the most popular (and possibly only-watched) sitcom among our writing staff, it is practically revered. We usually spend part of our Monday morning meetings quoting the previous night's episode. Plus, kind of like us, it's a bit of an underdog show, whose critical attention far, far outstrips its ratings. And in an awards process that usually rewards the same big-budget, established, regular shows, year after year, "Arrested Development" and our show had both bucked the trend: We had swept a second year, and they had won their first year on the air. The last show to do that was "Cheers."
Basically, what broke out right then was a lovefest, some hot quirky-comedy-on-quirky-comedy action. As all of us were thrust out onto the stage, for a final barrage of flash bulbs and confetti, a blur of writers and actors could be heard shouting, "I love your show!" "No, I love your show!" back and forth.
That feeling of admiration from our peers was even more precious and powerful than the one symbolized in an 18-inch, 20-pound statue you hold by the skirt.