By BERNICE FOX
Special to Circling the News
Sunday’s Emmy awards in Downtown Los Angeles began with host Cedric the Entertainer rapping about the virtues of television as he took the stage. Others in the star-studded audience got out of their seats and joined in this altered version of “Just a Friend” by the late Biz Markie.
And then the camera landed on that well-known hip hop artist, Rita Wilson. The Upper Riviera resident – and wife of Tom Hanks – rapped/sang:
“Who knew they’d have so much TV? HBO Max, I got for free.”
Wilson’s portion of the rap also included a shout out to “Sesame Street.”
(Seriously, Wilson can rap. In March of last year she surprised the world when she posted a video on Instagram of her rapping along to the tongue-twisting “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature. At the time, Wilson and Hanks were recovering from Covid. She titled her video “Quarantine Stir Crazy.”)
Back to Emmy night.
From the vantage point of the stage, the first presenter, Seth Rogen, looked out at the room filled with celebrities and expressed concern for the health and safety of 74-year-old Eugene Levy, our Pacific Palisades honorary mayor.
CBS and the Television Academy had billed the location for the awards behind the Microsoft Theater as an indoor/outdoor setting, appropriate during this pandemic. But Rogen went off script as a presenter, saying “we’re in a hermetically sealed tent right now. I would not have come to this.
“Why is there a roof? It’s more important that we have three chandeliers than we make sure that we don’t kill Eugene Levy tonight?”
Levy seemed fine when he and his “Schitt’s Creek” cast members took the stage to wild applause later in the show. The beloved series swept the Emmys last year. This night, they were there to present comedy writing and directing awards.
But unlike for other presenters, there was nothing on the teleprompter for them to read to present the writing award. Or, so they said. Daniel Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy finally got Eugene to confess that earlier he’d asked the Emmy writers to “lift the writing a little.” The writers’ reaction to that was not to write at all.
As the bit continued, lines appeared on the prompter for the “Schitt’s Creek” cast to read as they presented the directing award. Except as part of the joke, the insulted writers wrote nothing for Eugene. Certainly he’s learned by now not to tell writers how to do their job.
And we come to another Palisadian standout: Conan O’Brien. He’d wrapped up 11 years on his TBS late-night show back in June and was nominated for outstanding variety talk series. But Sunday night that award went to “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
With this being the last year of eligibility for “Conan,” Oliver included him in his thank-yous, saying “like many of us in this room, I was kind of rooting for Conan.”
Later in the evening, when the CEO of the Television Academy, Frank Scherma, came out to give a speech, O’Brien loudly encouraged the audience to give the TV executive a standing ovation, forcing Scherma to hold back until O’Brien had quieted down. Then, as the speech began, O’Brien saluted and remained standing.
O’Brien wasn’t finished taking over the spotlight. When Stephen Colbert and his team of writers and producers won for their election night special, O’Brien excitedly joined them on stage, even though he had no part in that show.
During the thank-you speech, Colbert pointed out “all of the people behind me — most of the people behind me — really deserve this Emmy.”
Palisadians who’d been up for Emmys this year, like J.J. Abrams, Don Cheadle, Jeanne Elfant Festa, Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Levy, Chuck Lorre, Matthew Perry, and of course, Conan O’Brien, ended the evening and the TV awards season by reminding themselves “it’s an honor just to be nominated.”