In less than thirty seconds, host Stephen Colbert firmly established the world of the 69th Annual Emmy Awards: Unabashedly political, incisive, and grounded in the understanding that pop culture serves as a political act and a soothing balm.
The opening musical number, “Everything is Better on TV” was an upbeat overview of the current political landscape and provided an early glimpse into the surprises in store on a night celebrating ground-breaking, thought-provoking “Golden Era”-television. The most unexpected moments were yet to come.
(Surprise!) Guest Appearances
The audience gave a collective gasp as Sean Spicer, yes — the former White House Press Secretary — rolled onstage behind an SNL-inspired podium to offer a formal pronouncement on the size of the Emmy audience. (“The largest audience to witness the Emmys — period. Both in person and around the world,” if you were wondering.) No one seemed more shocked than Melissa McCarthy, who won the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy last week for the now-infamous SNL cold-opens skewering Spicer.
Later, the classic tune “Nine to Five” announced the arrival of Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda to the stage, where each repeated the now infamous phrase, “sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical, bigot.” This was all before introducing the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series.
Ground-Breaking and Game-Changing Nominees and Winners
Not only were this year’s nominees the most diverse in the Award’s history, the winners broke records and made this a game-changing night for the industry.
Donald Glover became the first African American to win Outstanding Director in a Comedy for the “Atlanta” episode “B.A.N.” Glover, 33, also stands out for breaking a 40-year director/actor losing streak: no director has won for an episode in which they also starred since 1977 when Alan Alda won for M*A*S*H.
Lena Waithe cemented her place in television history, becoming the First African American woman to win for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. In light of the historic win the themes of her emotional “Master of None” episode, “Thanksgiving”, become all the more poignant.
Reed Morano’s Outstanding Director in a Drama Series win for “The Handmaid’s Tale” pilot episode, “Offred,” makes her the second woman to win in the category — in thehistory of the award.
The remarkable Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall on NBC’s “This is Us,” received Outstanding Lead Actor — Drama Series — the first African American to win since Andre Braugher in 1998, a fact Brown acknowledged in his acceptance speech.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus shattered another record: A fifth consecutive win for her role as Selina Meyer in “Veep” makes her the actor with the most Emmy awards for playing the same character.
Early in the show, Colbert joked that the the Emmys was a night of “us celebrating us.” “Tonight, we binge on ourselves.” If the audience binged on anything, it was a mutual appreciation that, for perhaps an awards show first, rang true.
The audience spontaneously offered standing ovations numerous times to show appreciation to television legends: Cicely Tyson, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear and Margaret Atwood, to name a few. During acceptance speeches and pre-show interviews, the genuine affection between fellow creatives was on display. Ann Dowd teared up as her name was called and so did her fellow cast members.
Aziz Ansari watching supportively as Lena Waithe gave her speech is the height of squad goals. Particularly noticeable was the admiration and fierce loyalty shown by the cast of “Big Little Lies.” Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon all took to the podium for acceptance speeches which reiterated the value of putting women “at the front of their own stories” and creating strong female-driven collaborations.
It was a night to remember, full of unexpected moments from the industry’s brightest stars. Comment below with your favorite Emmy moments!