Emmys 2014: A night of highs and lows for women

Sofia Vergara and Television Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum on stage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday.
Sofia Vergara and Television Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum on stage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

We may be living in “a wonderful time for women on television,” as Julianna Margulies observed Monday in her Emmys acceptance speech, an era when there are so many great dramatic roles for women on the small screen that people like Tatiana Maslany and Elisabeth Moss fail to even receive nominations.

But that doesn’t mean television is exactly a bastion of gender equality. Case in point: To many observers, Monday’s telecast was marred by a bit in which Television Academy Chief Executive Bruce Rosenblum quite literally put “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara on a pedestal.

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The gag seemed designed to bring some levity to the dull yet obligatory awards-show moment when whichever institution happens to be handing out the trophies rattles off its mission statement, but instead it struck many as being unabashedly sexist. As Rosenblum boasted about the academy’s diversity track record, Vergara preened and posed like a beauty pageant contestant on a spinning platform.

“Our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch,” he said. (Get it?)

The joke, which called to mind Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song from last year’s Oscars, sparked an immediate backlash on social media, where it was denounced as “tone-deaf” and “overtly sexist and kinda racist.” Even Katie Couric deemed it “somewhat offensive.” Many observers noted the dramatic contrast with Beyoncé’s bravura, 15-minute performance the night before at the VMAs, where the songstress appeared before an enormous screen with the word “FEMINIST” written in all caps.

Critics Tuesday morning were equally displeased: The Times’ Mary McNamara said the gag was “pretty horrifying.”

But backstage at the Emmys, Vergara defended herself against the supposed “haters.” “I think somebody can be hot and funny,” she said, countering that her critics have “no sense of humor” and need to “lighten up a little bit.”

Whatever the truth may be, the revolving-platform shtick overshadowed what in some ways was a milestone Emmys for women. Though they made up just 26% of this year’s non-gender-specific nominees, women still managed to take home prizes in the traditionally male-dominated categories of writing (Moira Walley-Beckett for “Breaking Bad”) and directing (Gail Mancuso for “Modern Family”).


Of course, Vergara is also an accomplished actress, having been nominated for an Emmy four times for her charming performance as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on “Modern Family,” which to some only made her willful participation in the stunt worse.

But Vergara and Rosenblum weren’t the only people accused of sexism Monday night. Adding to the night’s weird gender vibe was, of all people, Stephen Colbert. Accepting his second-consecutive variety series Emmy for “The Colbert Report,” the comedian thanked his predominantly male writing staff.

“I’m so proud of those guys — and one woman,” he said, adding, “Sorry for that, for some reason.”

The intended effect of Colbert’s last statement was unclear, but his comment struck many as dismissive of concerns over the persistent lack of diversity in late-night comedy. All this from someone able to explain the roots of misogyny in young men with great sensitivity and insight? Say it ain’t so!

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.