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Emmys acknowledge TV’s tough times


A year after its least-watched telecast ever, the Emmy Awards plaintively acknowledged TV’s changing role in the Internet age, bringing a collective sense of reckoning to the revamped show with everything from scripted jokes about the decline of networks to unemployed stars openly jobseeking.

And the gallows humor started from the top: Neil Patrick Harris opened Sunday’s ceremony with “Put Down the Remote,” in which the first-time host urged viewers “Don’t touch that dial/It’s been quite a while since the dial was in style, but you know what I mean … Don’t jump online/’cause this fine mug of mine needs a huge high-def screen.”

Best drama and comedy series trophies went to repeat winners “Mad Men” and “30 Rock,” respectively. The top honors for the relative ratings lightweights showed once again that critics and academy voters aren’t always in synch with TV viewers, another factor in the erosion of Emmys ratings.

Last year, “Mad Men” became the first basic cable show to win a top series award during a telecast watched by 12.3 million — the Emmys’ smallest audience ever. The sleek 1960s Madison Avenue saga has become a cultural touchstone, but not a mainstream hit, a fact that wasn’t lost on series creator Matthew Weiner as he accepted the award for a second straight year.

“It is an amazing time to work in TV,” Weiner said. “And I know that everything is changing, but I’m not afraid of it because I feel like all these different media is just more choice and more entertainment. It’s better for the viewers in the end and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Thanks in part to Patrick’s star turn, the show itself seemed back on track, though its participants were all too aware of what the industry faces. At one point, presenter Ricky Gervais razzed the Emmycast, cracking an inside joke he said was “just for the 5,000 people in this room — not for the 5,000 people watching at home.”

And in another sign of the times, not all winners had to be on set early Monday morning.

Kristin Chenoweth, the first winner of the night, struggled to hold back tears as she accepted the Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy for “Pushing Daisies,” which was canceled by ABC.

“I’m not employed now, so I’d like to be on ‘Mad Men,'” she said. “I also like ‘The Office’ and ’24.’ Thank you so much to the academy for recognizing a show that’s no longer on the air.” (Chenoweth was later examined by onsite paramedics because she felt a migraine coming on, but felt better after lying down and hoped to attend afterparties, spokeswoman Meghan Prophet said.)

At least one ratings juggernaut took a trophy when Jon Cryer of “Two and a Half Men” won a supporting acting Emmy. Cryer, whose series is the most-watched comedy on TV, brought a wry tone to his speech.

“I used to think that awards were just shallow tokens of momentary popularity, but now I realize they are the only true measure of a person’s worth as a human being,” Cryer quipped.

Last year, “30 Rock” creatorstar Tina Fey used her moment in the spotlight to beg for more viewers. This time, in accepting the show’s third straight win for best comedy series, she slyly called out her own network’s cost-saving move that has irked many creative types in the industry: blocking out five nights of prime-time slots for Jay Leno.

“We want to thank our friends at NBC for keeping us on the air,” she said, “even though we are so much more expensive than a talk show.”

At one point, Harris took his own swipe at broadcast TV during a sketch in his alter ego as Dr. Horrible, the mad scientist of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog,” an online musical comedy he created during the Writers Guild strike.

“Television is dead,” sneered Dr. Horrible. “The future of home entertainment is the Internet. Why watch something like this (he spread his arms grandly) when you can see it like this,” whereupon he snapped his fingers and the screen shrunk to postagestamp size. (He also touted online entertainment’s lack of interruptions — the screen then hiccuped into “buffering” mode — and panicked when his computer battery began fading, ending the bit.)

Harris’ snappy turn as host earned on-air kudos from several people onstage, including Jon Stewart, a double winner for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and Jeff Probst, a repeat winner as reality show host for “Survivor.”

“Neil Patrick Harris, THIS is how you host the Emmys. Nice job,” said Probst, who took part in last year’s five-host debacle.

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