The 10 best (and worst) Emmy hosts in recent history
This year’s Emmys ceremony will be minus a host. A look back at previous ceremonies suggests that the strategy isn’t a bad idea.
Like the Oscars — which also went without a host this year — emceeing the Emmys is a risky endeavor for even the most polished of entertainers. It can be an ideal platform for showcasing a performer’s quick wit and savvy industy knowledge, or a landmine of flat jokes and failed bits. Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris are among those who won praise for their handling of the Emmy spotlight. But there are plenty of others who received less than a passing grade.
As Sunday’s festivities approach, it’s worth looking back at some of the most memorable Emmy hosts — the good, the bad and the reality TV stars.
The unlikely combo of Jenna Elfman (“Dharma & Greg”) and David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier”) scored when they teamed up to emcee the 51st Primetime Emmys. A highlight of their pairing came when, attired in leotards, they defined some of the night’s nominees through interpretive dance. Former Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg gave the telecast a (muted) thumbs up, writing that the duo “were pleasant enough and didn’t get in the way.”
The 53rd Primetime Emmys were a milestone for both the ceremony and host Ellen DeGeneres. The awards took place in November after being postponed twice following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hollywood was on edge and several prominent nominees stayed home. The venue was moved to the now-demolished Shubert Theatre in Century City, and security was high and tight. But DeGeneres, clad in black, addressed the tension instantly during her opening monologue with what Rosenberg called “one of the funniest lines in the history of Emmydom.” Said the comedian: “I’m in a unique position as host because, think about it, what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?” Later, in a reference to the cast of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” Degeneres said, “When these four women get together and start talking about men, I have no idea what they are talking about.” Wrote Rosenberg: “Perfect host, perfect tone, perfectly hilarious.”
Hosting a high profile event that honors the best in television is worlds away from hosting an amateur singing competition. But “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest apparently thought he had enough charisma to helm both the Emmys and the red-carpet pre-show on E! “Welcome everybody to the 59th Primetime Emmys — the results show,” Seacrest declared at the start of his awkward monologue. Pointing out previous hosts such as DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien, Seacrest quipped, “Sure, they were hilarious, but would any of them have shown up four hours early to host the red carpet pre-show?” He later congratulated “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere on her 18th birthday, adding, “My gift to you is seating as far away from [“Entourage” star] Jeremy Piven as possible.”
Instead of declaring “Seacrest out,” ABC doubled down the following year for the 60th Primetime Emmys when they teamed him with his rivals in the newly created “outstanding reality-show host” category. Jimmy Kimmel introduced the hosts — Seacrest, Jeff Probst (“Survivor”), Heidi Klum (“Project Runway”), Howie Mandel (“Deal or No Deal”) and Tom Bergeron (“Dancing with the Stars”) — with “a little skit so bad it defies description,” wrote Times TV critic Mary McNamara, who added that year’s Emmy telecast was a contender for “The Worst Awards Show in the History of Television.”
Neil Patrick Harris displayed his song and dance skills while keeping the audience amused with smart humor and edgy zingers when he took over hosting duties for the 61st Emmys. Fresh from his successful hosting turn at the Tonys, Harris was an engaging emcee through the lengthy evening. “From the moment he stepped on stage,” wrote McNamara, “... you knew you were in good hands.”
Host Jimmy Fallon scored quickly when he, the cast from “Glee,” Jon Hamm, Tina Fey and others kicked off the 62nd Primetime Emmys with an electric live rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” His energy lasted through the evening. Wrote McNamara: “As a white-tuxedoed, wandering minstrel, Fallon played perfect host in the traditional sense of the compliment — he did not dominate so much as facilitate, making the category transitions lightly and cleanly, introducing presenters with humor and an insider’s ease, and remaining infectiously happy to be there without drawing too much attention to himself.”
In preparing to host the 66th Primetime Emmys, NBC “Late Night” host Seth Meyers spent numerous hours watching the nominated shows. His extensive homework paid off in the eyes of many critics, who found the “Saturday Night Live” alum engaging and his biting humor in fine form. McNamara gushed in her review: “Seth... Your opening monologue was funny, fresh and smart, chock-full of good jokes and insight into the wonderful roiling madness that is television today.”
Jimmy Kimmel was not only the host for the 68th Primetime Emmys — his ABC late-night talk show was a nominee in the variety talk category. But when his show lost out to “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” Kimmel did not hide his displeasure, saying, “Isn’t talk show supposed to be kind of an American thing?” He was interrupted by his longtime “nemesis” Matt Damon. “I missed the last category,” said Damon, chomping on an apple. “Did you win?” Ignoring Kimmel’s attempts to make him leave, Damon poured salt into the wound: “I’m sorry. This is so humiliating. You lost, and now you have to stand out here for the rest of the night in front of everybody while you probably just want to go home, curl up and cry.”
“Late Show” host Stephen Colbert was tapped to host the 69th Primetime Emmys, the first ceremony of the Trump administration, and as expected, Colbert, a frequent critic of Trump, took a few shots at the president in his opening monologue. But those jokes were overshadowed when Colbert brought out embattled former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to estimate the viewership of the awards. Spicer, in a twist on his infamous press conference exaggerating the size of Trump’s inauguration audience, said, “This is the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period. Both in person and around the world!” “Melissa McCarthy,” joked Colbert. “Everybody, give it up!”
Michael Che and Colin Jost, the anchors of “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live,” received mixed notices when they hosted the 70th Emmy Awards on NBC. A lukewarm skit about the lack of diversity on TV preceded their opening monologue, and many of their jokes fell flat.
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