Believing that golden anniversaries should be special, NBC has added an additional hour to its usual three hours' coverage of the nighttime Emmy Awards Sunday night.
"NBC decided from the very beginning to devote an entire evening of prime time to this," says executive producer Don Mischer, an Emmy winner in his own right ("The Kennedy Center Honors"). The broadcast will look back not only at this year's best programs and performers but also at the past five decades of television.
"Normally, we do a three-hour show," Mischer says. "In the course of a three-hour show, giving out 27 Emmy Awards, you have about 22 or 23 minutes for non-award time--for clip packages, etc. So while this is going to be a challenge, I think that it also gives us an opportunity . . . to put some good pieces in the show."
The first 22 minutes of the show, says Mischer, will actually be done outside the Shrine Auditorium "where people are arriving. Viewers really like that. We'll see arrivals and we're also going to talk about major Emmy races and introduce several of the segments that will be sprinkled through the show."
Among those will be a countdown of the 10 greatest television milestones in both news and entertainment, as selected by more than 200 journalists.
"We're also going to be doing Emmy timeline quizzes, not unlike what they do on 'Dateline,' " he says.
Five or six times during the course of the evening, clips from past Emmy acceptances will be shown. "There are moments that are particularly entertaining," says Mischer. "One has Lily Tomlin talking about comparing winning an award to baking a potato. One is Lucille Ball presenting an award, walking out there with her envelope in her hand, setting it down on the podium and not knowing which one is hers to open. Then she needed glasses and Milton Berle and Art Carney came up from the audience and loaned her glasses."
The Emmys have changed considerably over the years. At the first ceremony, on Jan. 25, 1949, only six awards were handed out. This year, there are 27 statuettes being given out Sunday and 55 more in nontelevised ceremonies--and that's just in the nighttime area. There are also Emmys for daytime, news, sports and local programming.
Over the years, too, Emmy categories have gone through major alterations. For example, NBC's "The Life of Riley" won for "best film made for and viewed on television" in 1950. In 1956, legendary mime Marcel Marceau picked up an Emmy for "best specialty act--single or group."
"This is the biggest scream of all time," says Thomas O'Neil, author of the history book "The Emmys." "It was 1958 and the [category] title was 'the best continuing performance in a series by a comedian, singer, host, dancer, announcer, a narrator, panelist or any person who essentially plays himself.' " Jack Benny won that award for men, while Dinah Shore won for women.
And Glenda Jackson, he remembers, won twice in 1972 for "Elizabeth R"-- for outstanding single performance by a lead actress and for outstanding actress in a drama series.
Though O'Neil believes that, in general, the Emmys reflect the best of what television has to offer, there are exceptions. He considers it a "travesty' that "Roseanne" never received a nomination for best comedy series during its long run on ABC, "even though it won a Golden Globe, a Humanitas Award and Peabody Award." And Jackie Gleason, he points out, never captured an Emmy, though Art Carney won for "The Honeymooners."
"Those oversights do happen and they are tragic when they do," he says, "but on balance, what was best on television won an Emmy."
This year's ceremony, Mischer says, isn't just going to be a trip down memory lane. "I'm hoping in this show we can get a sense of the hotter young people," he says. "We're going to put a lot of them on our show and have respect for those people who paved the way."
There is no host this year, but Mischer has lined up a wide array of presenters, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Garry Shandling, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Jenna Elfman, Sarah Michelle Geller, Thomas Gibson, Katie Holmes, Chris Rock, James Van Der Beek, Juliana Margulies, Mary Tyler Moore and James Garner.
Mischer says he recalls his first Emmy nomination--for directing the CBS special "Goldie and Liza Together" in 1980.
"I remember when I came to town, I said to myself, 'Man, it would be so great just to be nominated for an Emmy because it comes from your competitors.' I finally got nominated one year, and it was really a thrill. The first time I won was in 1983 for 'The Kennedy Center Honors' as a director and, man, there is just no feeling like it."
The 50th annual Emmy Awards airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBC.