In a pre-packaged, pre-processed world, television should be its best when it’s live and, well, special.
TV specials have offered music, humor and even bits of spontaneity. Then they seemed to disappear … except on CBS.
That comes to mind now, after a one-two punch: On June 12 was a terrific Tony Award ceremony, propelled by the immense talent of Ariana DeBose. On June 24 was a Daytime Emmy (shown here) ceremony that was really quite adequate … which makes it roughly 3,000-percent better than last year’s show.
We can give some credit to CBS in general … and to Jack Sussman, its specials chief, in specific. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, award shows were suspended. CBS, however, pushed ahead.
In lieu of the Academy of Country Music awards, it had a terrific special, with at-home performances. It also had another at-home show (not as good) from James Corden … and another (simple, yet well made) with Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood.
When it returned to live awards shows, CBS found clever ways to make them entertaining. The Grammys (with Trevor Noah hosting) and ACM’s were first-rate … especially when compared to the awfulness of the 2021 Oscars – a hostless, hopeless, joyless drudge on ABC.
There have been other specials, including two triumphs – a gorgeous Adele concert and a splendid hour with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. And yes, there was also a setback; a Daytime Emmy telecast with a dreary string of stilted, at-home acceptance speeches.
Now CBS has righted itself, doubly. Thie month brought:
— The Tonys, with a terrific show. The performances from eight nominated musicals ranged from good to (“The Music Man”) sensational. The bonus was DeBose — swirling with talent and energy, in the opening number and throughout. Not since Corden in 2016 has a host done so much to propel a show.
— The Daytime Emmys, with way less talent, but some decent moments.
Sure, there were lots of slow spots, with empty acceptance speeches preceded by great hordes of people crowding the stage. But there were also good moments, and something unique: Somehow, the “in memoriam” section was the highlight of the night.
That began with Susan Lucci, 75, a daytime-Emmy icon who was nominated 21 times, winning once. She gave a warm tribute to her husband Helmut Huber – an Austrian-born chef who died March 28 at 84. Then other names and faces flashed across a screen, backed by a Michael Bolton song … and ending with a glimpse of Betty White – whose daytime career ranged from live TV in Los Angeles to being a game-show superstar. She died on New Year’s Eve, 18 day before her 100th birthday.
Other moments were no match for that, but the hosts kept things upbeat. There was OK work from Kevin Frazier and from Nischelle Turner … who drew a standing ovation at the beginning for the pointed use of the word “choice” and reminded us at the end that “women’s rights are human rights.”
They also host the CBS-produced “Entertainment Tonight,” which won an Emmy. The only other CBS win came when Mishael Morgan became the first Black winner of the daytime best-actress award.
Otherwise, the night was dominated by of ABC’s “General Hospital” (including its 15th win for best daytime drama), by “Jeopardy” and by Tamron Hall and Kelly Clarkson.
Clarkson wasn’t there, nor were Steve Harvey (winner of best game-show host) or John Aniston, 88, who received a lifetime award. There was a lot missing here … but it was still a reminder that TV (at least on CBS) can sometimes be special.