Saturday was an excellent night and a strange night to be a member of the Television Critics Association. On the one hand, we held our annual TCA Awards ceremony, filled with terrific winners giving terrific speeches. On the other, the power in the hotel (and the surrounding neighborhood) randomly went out late in the post-show reception, and then news broke that the great James Garner – who had won our Career Achievement award four years earlier – had died.
Before the blackout and the sad news, though, the night featured many highlights, including:
* “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-star Terry Crews was our host, and after first doing the expected – juggling his pecs, he said, “I’m contractually obligated to do that” – he did the wildly unexpected by introducing Miss Piggy from the Muppets to duet on a song about the challenges of being a TV critic. (Sample line: “I’m the ‘Veep’ of heartbreak, canceled faster than ‘Rake.'”)
* “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci unsurprisingly gave the funniest speech of the night, not only referring to that opening act – “as the man and the pig sang,” he said at one point – but telling a story about a “Veep” extra who tried to impress him by repeatedly saying that he had had relations with Ianucci’s mother. This made him realize that “to swear properly, you need fantastic writers and a fantastic cast who can do it with aplomb, and thankfully I have both.”
* Matthew McConaughey from “True Detective” was our first winner, and as a newcomer to the event, it took him a few beats to realize that only the winners came, as he tried without much luck to find his fellow nominees in the audience. (The only one there was Bryan Cranston, there because “Breaking Bad” had won elsewhere.) After thanking his various co-workers on the HBO series, he paid tribute to his philosophizing alter ego Rustin Cohle, noting that he had “a bullshit meter of zero. I’m going to miss that guy.”
* “Saturday Night Live” won the Heritage Award (a sort of career achievement prize for TV shows), and since Lorne Michaels couldn’t make it, new “Weekend Update” anchor Colin Jost accepted in his place, joking about his own brief tenure on the series (“this is my first lifetime achievement award”) while also speaking eloquently about the tradition of a series that’s entering its 40th anniversary season.
* The actual Career Achievement award went to legendary sitcom director James Burrows, who demonstrated the same kind of brilliant timing that he helped instill in so many of his actors. When he was mistakenly introduced as fellow nominee (and one-time co-worker) James L. Brooks, Burrows took the mic and immediately joked about all the “Terms of Endearment” anecdotes he was going to tell us. After recalling the support critics gave to “Cheers” back when it was one of TV’s lowest-rated shows, he said, “I know you guys write stuff I don’t always agree with, but” – and he held up the physical award – “I agree with this.”
* “Breaking Bad” closed out the night with the Program of the Year award, and after Vince Gilligan apologized for essentially giving the same speech he had at previous TCA events, Cranston took the podium to both crack jokes, but also to wistfully note that this would be the show’s last time with the TCA, and one of the very last times the “Breaking Bad” group (which last night also included Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, director Michelle MacLaren and producer Mark Johnson) would be together to celebrate the show. “It’s a little sad saying goodbye,” Cranston said. ‘This is the last time we”ll be up here, unless you create the category of ‘Newly Departed Show.’”
There’s no video of the event – the fact that it’s not televised contributes enormously to the relaxed atmosphere and the winners’ ability to give actual speeches, rather than laundry lists of thank-yous – but it was an outstanding evening.