Highlights from the Television Critics Association Awards

Senior Television Writer
08.07.11 19 Comments

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As I’ve often said, the night of the Television Critics Association Awards is my favorite of press tour. Lots of cool people on hand, shows we want to celebrate, and the ceremony itself is almost always memorable. Because (aside from one disastrous attempt on E! before I joined the tour) the ceremony isn’t televised, it goes quickly, and the winners don’t feel like they just have to read a laundry list of thank-yous, which tends to lead to speeches that are actually about what the work means to them.

I published the list of the winners last night, but here are some highlights from the ceremony itself:

Our hosts for the ceremony tend to be stand-up comedians. Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation” is not a stand-up, but – as you might expect if you knew about his superhuman levels of competence in various arenas – he did a credible impression of one, getting big laughs with deadpan jokes about how he and Ron Effing Swanson are nothing alike (“We’re as similar as a carving gouge and a turning gouge”), a short film about how wife Megan Mullally helps him get into character every day (hint: much bacon is involved), and then a song, set to the tune of “I Walk the Line,” about how he needs to stay off-line and stop reading negative blog comments about himself. (Admittedly, I may be biased because the lyrics found a way to rhyme HitFix with “sucked big d–ks.”)

Jon Hamm – who would later share the unofficial Last Star Standing prize with Elisabeth Moss and his girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt, for staying longest at the after-party (he wanted to talk about “Louie” and “Game of Thrones”) – showed up sporting the full Draper, and in his speech for Individual Achievement in Drama thanked Matt Weiner for “giving me a career” and Westfeldt (who was taking a break from editing her directorial debut, “Friends with Kids”), “who has had to endure the ridiculousness of the last 4 or 5 years.”

Ty Burrell, who shared the comedy individual award with Offerman, gave a very funny speech about how he comes “from a very long line of losers,” including his stint on an Oregon high school basketball team that broke the record for losing that had been set by a team his uncle had played on. He accepted before Offerman’s name was announced as the other winner, and said, “I’m pretty sure whoever else won the award, you’re better than me.”

writer Steven Moffat was too busy in the UK simultaneously working on that show’s new season and some other show about a time-traveling phone booth, so instead producer Beryl Vertue – aka Moffat’s mother-in-law – accepted on his behalf. The industry veteran praised the power of nepotism, explaining, “A great way to run your company is to get your daughter to marry one of the best writers in the UK.”

A good chunk of the “Modern Family” cast – including Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Nolan Gould, Ariel Winter and Rico Rodriguez – joined co-creator Steve Levitan on stage to accept the Outstanding Comedy Series award. Levitan said that unlike the kids in the cast – “Who think this happens every time you do a TV show” – the rest of them know what it’s like to do a show that isn’t beloved. Levitan has worked on shows before that got good reviews, but the reception for “Modern Family” “makes you realize how faint the praise was” previously.

Both Oprah Winfrey (winner of the Career Achievement Award) and Jason Katims (on hand to accept Program of the Year for “Friday Night Lights”) won points for self-deprecation about things critics have dinged them for in the past. Winfrey (appearing via a pre-recorded message) acknowledged the reaction to her 18-minute filibuster at the last press tour and joked that she would try to make this speech at least 19 minutes; at the end of the video, she said, “And now I’m going to shut up.” Katims (more on him in a bit) said, “You never even criticized us for the murder storyline in season 2… okay, you devoured us.”

The TCA gave our Heritage Award (a kind of career achievement for shows) to “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and while Van Dyke himself couldn’t make it, series creator Carl Reiner, co-star Rose Marie and the very grown-up Larry Matthews came. The 89-year-old Reiner talked at length about the genesis of the show, which was originally supposed to star himself as Rob Petrie, and how he had written 13 scripts that summer in case the show went to series. When the pilot wasn’t picked up, his agent put him together with producer Sheldon Leonard, who said it would be a shame for those scripts to go to waste. Reiner said he told Leonard that he didn’t want to fail twice with the same material, and Leonard told him, “You won’t fail, because we’ll get a better actor to play you!” Rose Marie was in a wheelchair and couldn’t easily make it to the stage, but she was given a microphone so she and Reiner could banter with each other and share memories from across the room. Hamm was seated directly in my line of sight to Rose Marie, and the beaming look on his face as those two legends went back and forth kind of spoke for the room: we could have listened to them reminisce for far, far longer than they did.

Towards the end of his speech, Reiner talked about a pair of reviews of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” – one negative, one positive – that he remembered, and that in turn inspired Matthew Weiner‘s opening line when he accepted the “Mad Men” award for Outstanding Drama Series: “I don’t read reviews. I recite them.” He also joked that, “In our pilot, I originally played Don Draper,” and said that the universal praise for “Mad Men” has been tough on him at times, because “It’s hard to continue as a creative person when you lose that enemy.” (In addition to Hamm and Moss, John Slattery and Christina Hendricks came to represent the cast and join Weiner on stage.)

Finally, the entire room got chills when Katims and a good chunk of the “Friday Night Lights” final season cast – including Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Michael B. Jordan, Matt Lauria, Jurnee Smollett and Grey Damon – took the stage to the strains of Snuffy Walden’s “FNL” theme to accept for Program of the Year. Katims talked about how it was so hard to let go of the series that he literally kept tinkering with the edit of the finale until the furniture and Avid got removed from the editing room. He waxed nostalgic about some characters (noting that Grandma Saracen always made him cry), comic about others (wondering how Tim Riggins made it through 10 months in a Texas jail without cutting his hair), praised Britton and Chandler to the heavens, and closed, appropriately, by saying, “Thank you all. Texas forever.”

And a good time was had by all and sundry.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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