Times Staff Writer

Alexander H. Cohen has a theory that goes against conventional wisdom. He holds that viewers of Emmy Award shows actually enjoy hearing what the winners have to say.

He says this even though (a) there have been valiant attempts to limit the oratory, and (b) winners’ speeches still tend to go on so long that television’s big night now is regarded by some as an entertaining alternative to Sominex.

Although Cohen has made the long thank you a definite no-no in his 19 years of producing Broadway’s annual Tony Award telecast, he has set no time limits on the victory speeches to be heard during Sunday’s prime-time Emmy show on ABC, which he is producing.

The telecast will be aired live in the East and Midwest (and locally via tape-delay on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) starting at 8 p.m. It is scheduled to last three hours. If past is prologue, the schedule may prove the triumph of hope over experience.

Why no steps to curb what Larry Gelbart--co-producer of the surprisingly slim, trim Oscar show last March--calls the “overgrateful person”?


“Well, there’s been kind of a difference in our thinking as we’ve approached this,” says Cohen, whose wife, Hildy Parks, has been chief writer of their Tony ventures and is chief scrivener for Sunday’s Emmy gala at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

He says he’s been watching tapes of other award shows that copy his Tony-night use of a time limit and flashing red light to remind windy winners they face the hook if they don’t cease and desist. He has concluded that Emmy night is a special case.

Tony night, he says, “is parochial in that many viewers don’t know those people up on the screen. Therefore, there’s every reason to attempt to limit their acceptance speeches. But the converse is true with the Emmys.

“I believe people tune in to the Emmys to see their favorites, see what they’re wearing, cheer who wins, and that viewers are extremely interested in the acceptance speeches on camera.”

Ergo, “we will say to the nominees, ‘If you win, be witty, be charming, and--if you can--be brief.’ And we will pray, of course.”

Prayer seems wise. Sunday’s 37th annual Emmy show for prime-time programs has 29 honors categories, two special awards and acknowledgements of the 43 Emmys--most in craft categories--that were awarded Sept. 7 at non-televised ceremonies in Los Angeles.

More than 30 celebrity presenters will be presenting. They range from burly Mr. T, scheduled to announce the winner of the best costume design, to lovely Linda Evans, who will disclose which drama or comedy special has won an Emmy.

To try to keep all this within three hours, Cohen, last at the Emmy-night helm in 1978, has made a command decision: He is limiting the production numbers to give winners more word time. There’ll only be four such numbers, each running only about six minutes, including the lavish opening that was taped last week.

The theme of the show, he adds, will be the theme music of television over four decades. He concedes that this may seem odd, considering that few viewers can recall ever dancing to the music of, say, “M Squad” or even “Dynasty.”

“Believe it or not,” he says, sounding amazed himself, “61 television themes have hit the charts in 40 years.”

After Sunday night, the urbane, flamboyant producer will return to New York and his office above Broadway’s Shubert Alley. There, Cohen, whose primary love and business since 1941 has been the theater, will ponder two planned stage projects.

One is “Never in My Lifetime,” a drama about the troubles of Northern Ireland.

The other is a lighthearted venture, a mega-revue tentatively called “Broadway’s Best,” that spans 40 years of Broadway musicals and the work of such notable songsmiths as Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim.

His wife, Hildy, is putting together the show’s book.

They hope to get the musical opened in May before the deadline for Tony nominations (he will produce next season’s Tony show, despite his much-publicized dispute with and resignation from the League of New York Theatres and Producers).

Cohen views “Broadway’s Best” as a completion of a circle, so to speak. He and his wife have done similar musical collections for the Tony telecasts, but never before for Broadway.

“It’s an odd thing,” he mused. “We got into television because of the theater. Of course, we’ve never left the theater. But now we’re going back to the theater with a musical production that really has its genesis in television.”