Thanks for everything, TV Land. The Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a comedy series was fun. The gig as co-host of the 46th Annual Emmy Awards show Sunday night is certainly flattering.
Not that any of it really matters.
“This is like real gravy, but I distrust it,” says Emmy co-host and “Home Improvement” nominee Patricia Richardson. “There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Don’t let that be important because that’s not what it’s about.’
“Part of the whole L.A. mentality that nothing really matters unless it’s a success . . . is such a shallow and dangerous attitude to have.”
It turns out that one of America’s feistiest TV moms is also one of its more outspoken actresses. Her Jill Taylor character, who takes Tim Allen’s caveman-esque quips and zings them back at him, isn’t too far removed in feminist brio from Richardson herself.
Both women have been embraced by a country of TV watchers bored with the namby-pamby mothers-know-best of the pre-"Roseanne” era: ABC’s sitcom “Home Improvement” was the No. 1 show last season, and Richardson/Taylor was chosen America’s second favorite mom after Kathie Lee Gifford in a USA Today poll last year. (The small screen’s mother of three and wife to tool jock Tim Taylor (Allen) is, in real life, a mother of three and wife to the far more enlightened actor Ray Baker (“Places in the Heart”).)
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that as Richardson picks at her cold salmon at a cafe near her Santa Monica home, she’s also chewing over the fact that she will be co-queen of the Emmys with comedian Ellen DeGeneres. Their distaff rule over this year’s show follows Angela Lansbury’s over last year’s Emmys, Whoopi Goldberg’s command of this year’s Oscar ceremony and Roseanne’s stint at the helm of the MTV Video Music Awards on Thursday night.
Does the recent flurry of female award-show hosts signify something up in Hollywood?
“I think they’re trying to lie to the public and pretend that Hollywood is a place women are running,” Richardson says, then hoots.
Still, in a world where everything is relative, Richardson, 43, finds it fitting that two actresses are helming the Emmy telecast. Television, unlike film, welcomes women over 40, she says.
“I think it’s nice that they’re doing that because I believe television is still ruled by women,” says the former New York stage actress. “I mean, all of the TV movies are women-driven. Even our show, which is such a male-oriented show, is watched by more women than men. Television is a real woman’s medium . . . but what’s disturbing is, still even in television, women have so little to do with what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Don Mischer, executive producer of the Emmy Awards, said women were deliberately recruited to steer the show, but not to make any kind of statement.
“I think it’s less predictable,” he said. “I think often in these shows you kind of expect to have a single male host out there. It’s just a different direction. . . . On my part, there’s no effort to create the illusion that women are running Hollywood. I think Hollywood is still very much of a boys’ club.”
Beyond that, Richardson, an established ABC star, was selected to balance out her up-and-coming co-host, the edgier ABC comedian DeGeneres. (As you may have guessed, ABC is airing this year’s Emmy show.)
“I think viewers will be comfortable with Pat as the host,” Mischer said. “She has a natural charm and down-to-earth graciousness, and when you combine that with her likability, it will make her a really good host.”
Richardson also sees a certain harmony to co-hosting with DeGeneres.
“She sees this as something to look forward to, as fun. I see it as major surgery. . . . Everything that happens in my life that’s a change or new, my first reaction is abject terror. My second reaction is to examine the terror and figure out if it’s justified. If it’s not, then I try to do it anyway, which is why I’m hosting.”
The other reason is to appease her advisers, who’ve fruitlessly tried to get Richardson to broaden her profile with “the hundred cheesy appearances at parties and openings and all the stuff that I guess people do that I don’t really do. . . . They think I need to be seen away from Tim’s tool apron strings. Most people don’t know who I am unless I’m standing next to Tim. They say, ‘If you do this, then we will stop bugging you about the other stuff.’ Fine.”
But standing next to Tim Allen has helped make Richardson a model for American women; her smart retorts to his character’s Cro-Magnon jibes lend Jill Taylor an enviable degree of power in the marriage. Their chemistry has propelled the show through three years of prime time, and Richardson’s contract calls for three more.
“One of the things I really have to watch out for on the show is that there are times when I would really respond to something in a hurt way, which I would in my life,” Richardson said. “I can’t afford those colors as Jill, because if I do, it’s like suddenly he seems abusive. Jill almost always comes back at him after he’s hurt her, because if she comes back at him with anything else you lose the comedy. It becomes a little scary.”
Richardson, the keeper of the feminist flame on “Home Improvement,” provides input into some of the more retrograde writing.
“I try to protect the feminist viewpoint on the show as much as I can. So much of the time, it’s protected anyway--Tim says some jerk stupid thing, and Al holds up a sign that says ‘Right,’ so there’s an acknowledgment on the part of the show that they know that what he’s saying is stupid. But sometimes I let things go by and then I feel terrible about it. Every once in a while I go, ‘Oh my God, I should have stopped that one.’ ”
Richardson, who’s no longer starlet material, believes she won’t be able to parlay her growing recognition into a career in film, bailiwick of the better scripts.
“There’s a lot to overcome there. I’m not a guy. It’s a lot easier for men to make that transition from sitcom to film than it is for women. And what I keep getting offered are (TV) melodramas where it’s Jill, only Jill has an autistic child, or it’s Jill and she’s exposing corruption in Louisiana, or it’s Jill and she’s running from the bad guys.
“I got one script where the character was a public defender who was actually very interesting because she was totally screwed up. I was so happy to finally see somebody who wasn’t Jill again. When I do end up doing something, it will probably be really sick. I live in such a sweet world in the world of ‘Home Improvement’ that I tend to be drawn to stuff that’s really on the other end of the spectrum entirely.”
* NEWS WINNERS
ABC and CBS win nine awards apiece at the News and Documentary Emmys. F13