Backstage at the Emmies, 2005
My friends Rob Kutner and Sheryl Zohn have written up their experiences backstage (and onstage) at the Emmies. Here it is, reprinted with their permission. If you enjoy it, you might also want to read Rob's Emmy writeup from 2004.
Dear Friends and Family,
With the recent events in New Orleans hanging heavily on everyone's minds, we thought we'd distract you for at least a few moments with something utterly frivolous: our account of the 2005 Emmy Awards. Yes "our," because this year, Rob has enlisted some help from his trusty cub reporter/Emmy "+1," Sheryl.
We begin our story at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where the "Daily Show" housed its entire staff. Of course, not everyone at the hotel was a fan of the show. At check- in, Rob's co-worker Jason Reich overheard the following conversation concerning one Mr. Jon Stewart:
Clerk #1: "Hey, did you see the guy from 'Half-Baked' is staying here? But he's grayed a little."
Clerk #2: "Yeah, he has his own show on Comedy Central now."
Clerk #1: "Oh, I only watch Comedy Central for 'Mind of Mencia'."
Fortunately, several members of the Academy were more familiar with Stewart's work (and that of his 13 writers), and so Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in a limousine on our way to the Shrine Auditorium for the 57th Annual Emmy Awards. As in past years, the city was clogged with limos, stretch hummers, and even a stretch Mini-Cooper (Is that just a Cooper?). But not everyone believed in motorized transportation: From our car window, we saw Zach Braff ("Scrubs") passing by on foot and waving at all of us suckers stuck in traffic, as well as David Letterman sitting at a bus stop, in his best Emmy formal shorts and T-shirt.
We also passed a regular annual sight outside the Emmys: the God-arazzi. These are people who line the route to the Shrine Auditorium, holding signs with messages like, "Christ or Satan?" and "Have You Seen the Big Picture? Rev. 21:1-8" and "Do you worship posers? What will you do when you see Jesus?" Joining them was a man with slightly more earthly concerns, handing out demo discs and wearing a sign telling Hollywood "Let Me Sing Your Soundtracks???? I Want A Record Deal."
Finally, we arrived at the red carpet - that is, the side of the red carpet reserved for us less famous nominees. Over our heads, the rabid Emmyheads who'd gotten carpetside seats screamed every time anyone vaguely recognizable walked by. When the actor who plays "Sawyer" on "Lost," entered, the crowd - unable to recall all 800 cast members' names - simply yelled, "LOOSSST!!!" Geena Davis's new husband was also demanded by the hungry fans, with the respectful request, "HUSBAND!!!!!"
Arriving with us was another of Rob's co-workers, J.R., and his mother, Gloria, who - despite traveling in a wheelchair - was cajoled, along with everyone else, to "hurry it up!" Gloria got her revenge on Hollywood, however, when her hurried pace caused her to roll right over the train on Paula Abdul's dress, mid-interview. J.R.'s response: "I'll never wash that wheel again."
As we discovered at the door, the reason for the rush was that the ceremony had already begun, meaning we had to wait until the first commercial break to take our seats (pushing past a pregnant Jennifer Garner and a peeved-looking Ben Affleck). As befits those the Academy honors most, we were seated as far to the left as physically possible, next to event crew working on their laptops.
Sadly, though, the two of us weren't able to enjoy the show together for very long, as the Academy cruelly decided to pull Rob and his colleagues away and onto the stage.
After appearing on stage, the Daily Show writers were led backstage to pick up their actual trophies - blank statues when you pick them up (the personalized bands are sent later via U.S. mail). Joining the newly-minted Emmy winners was Donald Trump, with whom the writers had a picture taken with. But as soon as the Donald left earshot, the imitations erupted ("That film speed was the most elegant film speed money can buy." "This flashbulb has been used on princes and sultans...").
Trump continued on into the thicket of press/commercial sponsor booths -- this year's included the "Architectural Digest Greenroom" and the "Sprint/Nextel Sofa-And-Wet-Bar-Under-a-Tent Interview Chamber," where a buxom blonde handed out glasses of citrus beverage and Doris Roberts was perpetually being interviewed. The writing staff, however, had to wait around for Jon and the executive producers to join them for photos. Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart and Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell, stood there, too, with camera and crew at the ready, completely disinterested. Until Jon showed up. Suddenly there were photographers around him at every turn, snapping him in the middle of group shots which, let's just say, maybe they didn't care if the *whole* group made it into.
Meanwhile, Sheryl continued to watch the broadcast from her seat. On one side was one of the seat-fillers whose job it is to cover up the fact that most Emmy attendees are outside at the bar half the show. On the other side was Daily Show commentator Lewis Black, who ranged from grumbling every time reality shows were mentioned to exchanging pleasantries with former theater cohorts Blythe Danner and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Eventually, Lewis Black also succumbed to the siren song of the Emmy bar, and Sheryl ended up sitting next to the aforementioned Gloria (a.k.a. J.R.'s Mom), who couldn't keep her eyes off the most brightly shining star in the entire theater: the guy who played Bertie Wooster (a.k.a. Hugh Laurie from Fox's "House.") As luck would have it, Laurie walked up the aisle next to Gloria. Not wanting to miss a chance, Sheryl popped up, grabbed the actor's hand, and exclaimed, "We're with the Daily Show! And this is a Daily Show writer's Mom!" Laurie graciously shook Gloria's hand and congratulated her. Surely Jeeves would have been proud.
A few minutes later, Alan Alda walked up the very same aisle.
Sheryl: "Look, there's Alan Alda."
Gloria: "Oh, you're right."
Sheryl: "Want to meet him?"
Fans can be so fickle.
Once released with his colleagues from the photographers' gauntlet, Rob made his way back to his seat through the lobby of the Shrine. With no food at the 4-hour ceremony, but plenty of cash bars and opportunities to slip out during commercials, it's an interesting place to be. Legions of female attendees with dubious attachment to the Emmies (not to mention their gown straps) slink around, cooing over freshly won statues. Two of them converged on Rob, begging to have their picture taken with it. He agreed, but then the following argument broke out.
Slinkstress #1: Hey look, there's Dennis Leary! Let's get our picture taken with him!
Slinkstress #2: No, stupid, we have an Emmy. Let's get our picture with that.
Slinkstress #1: But Dennis Leary's getting away!
Slinkstress #2: But the Emmy's right here!
Despite Rob's offer to let them take the picture with Dennis Leary holding Rob's Emmy, Leary did, in fact get away. The Solomonic dispute was resolved.
Eventually, Rob made his way back to Sheryl and their seats inside. Later on, during another commercial break - okay, bathroom break - both of us were out in the lobby together and got to meet Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, creators of "The Office." Rob made a joke, and was psyched to see his hero Gervais smile, but then saddened to see a man so brilliant still fallen victim to British dentistry.
Meanwhile, Sheryl was wandering the lobby, unable to find Rob (had he been kidnapped by slinkstresses?) However, she did find Daily Show correspondent Stephen Colbert, who was being congratulated on his Emmy by a beefy guy.
Guy: "Wow, congratulartions on the Emmy! What'd you get it for?"
Stephen Colbert: "Special Effects."
Guy: "Really? What kind of stuff do you do?"
Sheryl: "He's the best 3-d graphics man in Hollywood."
Guy: "Cool! You gotta meet my buddy. He's at a studio, maybe he could get you some work."
After the awards ended, the nominees and their guests were ushered into the Governors' Ball, a celebratory banquet held in a ballroom adjoining the auditorium. The Daily Show was seated at two tables corresponding to our positioning in the auditorium - all the way in the "bathroom corner." Most of the tables at the Ball were occupied by skinny white writers and producers. But the table next to ours was noticeably different: It included a fat guy with curly hair, an Arab man, an Asian woman, an African-American man, and a hobbit from "Lord of the Rings." Gradually, it dawned on us that these were, in fact, most of the cast members from "Lost."
Although the theme of this year's Ball was reportedly "1930s Ocean Liner," the lack of organization made it more reminiscent of a certain ocean voyage from 1912. The evening's entertainment was "The Ten Tenors" - an Australian singing group whose lowlight was an ill-advised BeeGees medley. The wait-staff had to check our tickets because unauthorized people (seat-fillers and slinkstresses, from our observation) were sneaking in. Two of them sat down at our table, in the seats of a temporarily missing writer and his wife, and helped themselves to their shrimp. Adding to the mix were obnoxious paparazzi, surrounding Jon's table next to ours. When one of them went so far as to start bumping another writer's wife, Sheryl took revenge by throwing a shrimp at his back. One final crustacean story: We walked by the "Six Feet Under" table, where we saw actor Matthew St. Patrick ("Keith") sitting alone, ferociously chomping his shrimp in solitude, while wait-staffers tried to entertain him.
On the way out, we all got one last walk on the red carpet. For J.R.'s mother Gloria, this was a last golden opportunity to meet celebrities. After all, what Hollywood liberal can resist a woman in a wheelchair holding an Emmy? As we finished exchanging pleasantries with Glenn Close, Gloria asked in a soft voice, "Is that a Jeremy Piven?" Imagine our surprise to hear, "Why yes it is," and see the "Entourage" co-star pivot a quick 180 to reach down and shake Gloria's hand. Later, during the somewhat lengthy wait for our limo, Sheryl chatted with "Office" star Mackenzie Crook ("Gareth"), who was double-earringed, smoking, and quietly contemplating a tree.
Our driver took us to the Comedy Central after-party, held at a club ("Meson G") in West Hollywood. Jon and the Daily Show correspondents made an appearance there, as did Reno 911's Cedric Yarbrough ("Jones") and a surprisingly tall, Chinese-shirt-wearing, constantly yelling, Quentin Tarantino. It took Rob some time to make it through the crowd surrounding Tarantino to request an autograph for a friend. Though Tarantino was kind enough to give it, we still haven't figured out why exactly he was at a Comedy Central party.
But the most amusing "celebrity" sighting, at least to us, took place the next day at Burbank airport, when we were waiting to fly back to New York. Sitting across from us, waiting to board the same flight on discount, first-class-free carrier Jet Blue, was NBC President Jeff Zucker, the man many hold responsible for turning the #1 network into #4. Doesn't bode well if even the Peacock is flying discount coach. Though don't be surprised if next season's shows have a lot of tie-ins to Terra Blue potato chips.
As it happened, the most telling Emmy moment also happened at Burbank International. Having stowed his 18-inch tall, sharp-winged metal implement into a carry-on bag, Rob sent it through the X-ray machine, where naturally it showed up to the screeners. Their only question about the statue, no doubt spurred by years in Hollywood: "Is it real?"
Our best answer: "Just for one night."