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September 22, 2009
Emmycast Returns to Form
Harris wows crowd with Shaiman song; Ross wins 3rd Emmy by Jon Burlingame
LOS ANGELES—Music featured prominently in Sunday night's 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards, from host Neil Patrick Harris' funny opening number to the live, on-stage band and TV's hot dancers strutting their stuff.
As expected, Harris opened the show at the Nokia Theatre with a song-and-dance number, "Put Down the Remote," penned by the inimitable Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray), who earlier this year wrote a song for Harris to perform while hosting the Tony Awards.
It was a classic-sounding big-band swing tune with smart and clever lyrics, some referring to the current TV landscape ("put down the remote / every note from this throat is a not-to-be-TiVo'd kiss"... "every dame looks so luscious and cool / but like next season on 'Idol,' I'm not seeing Paula Abdul...").
Harris wowed the crowd, with several winners pausing during their acceptance speeches to knowledge his winning style. And in talking about music, Harris cited the dearth of classic TV themes, playing the brief, grim, electronic opening to Lost as a prelude to another laugh line: "Come on, the last time there were a bunch of people stranded on an island, there was a song about it, and dagnabbit, it was awesome!"
Another of producer Don Mischer's innovations was hiring a band – the first time in five years the Emmycast has had live music – and placing them onstage at the Nokia. Co-music directors Steve Jordan (on drums) and David Paich (on keyboards) led an all-star, 17-member group (that Paich, in a pre-show interview, called "the highest paid garage band in the world").
Among its members: guitarists Dean Parks (America, Steely Dan) and Ray Parker Jr. ("Ghostbusters"), keyboardist Michael Bearden (Michael Jackson's last music director), saxophonist Tom Scott (Grammy winner and a former Emmy music director himself), bassist Darryl Jones (the Rolling Stones) and percussionist Lenny Castro (Fleetwood Mack).
Singer Sarah McLachlan sang her touching "I Will Remember You" during the "In Memoriam" segment, which recognized the passing of many TV greats over the past year, including composer Neal Hefti (who wrote the Batman and Odd Couple themes) – a vast improvement by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences following last year's outrage when it failed to acknowledge the deaths of top TV theme composers Earle Hagen (The Andy Griffith Show), Alexander Courage (Star Trek) and Leonard Rosenman (Combat!), leading the Academy to formally apologize to their families.
The on-stage band provided an up-tempo vibe throughout the evening, sometimes with a jazz bent, sometimes a rock flavor. Jordan and Paich's arrangements of contemporary TV themes (as when 30 Rock and Mad Men won the top comedy and drama awards) were lively but still recognizable versions of the originals.
They also played for "Dancing With the Stars" professional hoofers Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who performed with an ensemble of dancers, all choreographed by Napoleon and Tabitha D'umo ("So You Think You Can Dance").
Four of the five music-field Emmys were presented at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 12 (see separate story), but Mischer saved the song award (formally titled Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics) for the prime-time show. Justin Timberlake, already an Emmy winner for a Saturday Night Live guest appearance, was nominated twice in this category (for his SNL parody "Motherlover" and for a production number at the ESPYs) but wound up losing to the team that wrote Hugh Jackman's opening number at the Oscars.
William Ross, who had already won an Emmy earlier this month as music director of a Barbra Streisand special on CBS, shared songwriting honors with fellow composer John Kimbrough and lyricists Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and Ben Schwartz. This is Ross' third Emmy.
©2009 Jon Burlingame
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