Emmys: What the voters got right (and wrong)

From a surprise marriage proposal to an emotional speech by Betty White, these are the highlights from this year's Emmy Awards.

The Emmy Awards featured their share of surprises -- putting prognosticators on their heels, and spreading the wealth among a number of networks

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 9:20 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 12:59 PM

(CNN) -- The Emmy Awards featured their share of surprises -- putting prognosticators on their heels, and spreading the wealth among a number of networks. There was also a welcome mix of old and new, which is one of the unique challenges that TV faces, from recognizing that much-talked-about new series to paying homage to a long-running show in its final year.

That process creates a degree of difficulty for TV awards that, in some respects, goes beyond what movies, music or theater face. So kudos to the Television Academy for what its members got right, and better luck next time on a few areas where, arguably, they got it wrong.

In the plus column:

Although you couldn't really go wrong with "Game of Thrones" or "The Handmaid's Tale," the academy seemed to send a message that at least for now, when it comes to the best-drama throne, anything else is going to have to wait its turn. And given the scope of the HBO series -- heading into its eagerly anticipated final season -- that's perhaps as it should be.

"The Americans" was never a huge hit ratings-wise, but it enjoyed a fiercely devoted following, and ended its run on an especially satisfying note -- never easy with a show this complicated. As a result, the twin victories for star Matthew Rhys and in drama writing felt especially well deserved.

"Godless." One could argue that "Godless" should have edged out "The Assassination of Gianni Versace" in the limited series category, but the supporting wins for Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels were a solid consolation prize.

Credit voters, too, with looking past movie-star appeal -- always a factor at the Emmys when actors with those credentials are involved -- and choosing Darren Criss for "Versace," despite Benedict Cumberbatch's sizable shadow. Ditto, too, for honoring Regina King, who was easily the best thing about Netflix's "Seven Seconds."

Henry Winkler. Occasionally, a sentimental and popular choice can be the right one, and Winkler's first win -- after six nominations dating back to the 1970s -- for HBO's "Barry," coupled with his ebullient speech, were a terrific way to kick off the night.

In the "wish they'd gone in a different direction" dept....

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is a fine show, but its five-Emmy, near-sweep of the top comedy categories felt excessive, even with "Atlanta's" second season falling short of the first. Then again, with the benefit of hindsight chalk that up, in part, to the void left by perennial comedy champ "Veep," which sat out this year's festivities.

"Last Week Tonight" remains a splendid half-hour, but John Oliver's third consecutive Emmy came at the expense of fellow "The Daily Show" alum Stephen Colbert, whose "Late Show," both commercially and creatively, enjoyed a breakthrough year, becoming a vital nightly voice of satire since Donald Trump's inauguration. Beyond that, there's the simple difference between doing one half-hour show a week and churning out five episodes, which also merits more consideration, seemingly, then voters applied.

The Emmy-bashing Emmys. Finally, a word about the telecast itself, separate from the voting. Beyond its other drawbacks, hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost joked about the Emmys' low ratings, their lack of coolness (Jost gave a shout out to viewers at the "Silver Lining Senior Center"), and generally sniped at the entire awards process.

A degree of self-deprecating humor is always welcome, and it plays well in the room. But that's easier to laugh off when delivered from a position of strength, not the weakness of a show searching for its identity, coming off ratings lows the past two years.

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