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Typically, the “In Memoriam” segment of any awards ceremony is a sad and sometimes sentimental tribute highlighting those individuals in the industry who have died in the past year. Frequently, the show will cut to a commercial and by the time the program returns, everything will be happy and peppy, once more. Leading into this year's event, however, the Emmy “In Memoriam” segment was a hot button topic for viewers thanks to an alteration in format, which is a shame, because every awards show should spotlight some of the greats in exactly the same way that the Emmy Awards chose to do tonight.
There were actually two separate “In Memoriam” segments shown throughout the 2013 awards. The first was the basic list format, complete with photos and some demure violin music. The second was a set of storytelling segments from some of the actors that knew those who died in this past year best.
Here’s where the controversy comes in. On Thursday, it was announced that the Emmys had planned special tributes for Glee actor Cory Monteith, Family Ties and Spin City producer Gary David, The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini, Mork & Mindy’s Jonathan Winters, and All in the Family’s Jean Stapleton. At the time, no one knew exactly what the “In Memoriam” segment would look like, and people were rightfully upset that some acting greats, including Dallas actor Larry Hagman and The Odd Couple’s Jack Klugman were being excluded. The Emmys are notoriously time-constrained and I’m sure it was someone’s unfortunate job to decide who merited a special segment and who didn't.
Despite the snubs, the storytelling segments really worked. Lynch spoke with quiet dignity when she talked Monteith and his contributions to Fox’s family before his untimely death. Michael J. Fox got a little choked up when he spoke of the amazing impact Goldberg had on his life and career. Perhaps the best example that these storytelling moments was Sopranos actress Edie Falco, who has written about Gandolfini’s impact on her life already, but who spoke eloquently and with fervor about the beloved actor.
“When you see really great art you can sometimes forget that behind it is a person with technique and skill, for sure, but with an instinct, a perspective that is distinctly their own, one that moves people, pulls them in, makes them want to watch. James Gandolfini was one such individual. “
Despite the difficulties of explaining the format to the public and despite the fact that a few more of TV’s greats deserved a special tribute, the segment was a brilliant idea and a great way to look at the lives of some contributors rather simply nodding to them while sad violin music played. These people, who were described over the evening using words and phrases such as “depth and dimension,” “uniquely generous,” and “remarkable and curious,” all deserve better than that. And it doesn’t take much to listen to witty and warm actors discuss some of the people they cared about most.
It’s also a great way for audiences to connect to some TV names that may not hail from their generation of television. I was too young to know much about Family Ties and to really connect with Spin City, but hearing about the impact Goldberg had on Fox was humbling and worthwhile. I’m sure my mother, who also watched the Emmys this evening, probably had no idea what sort of cultural impact Monteith had on Glee. But hearing about Monteith through Jane Lynch probably gave her an idea of the actor he was, and who he might have become had life worked out differently.
The “In Memoriam” segment doesn’t have to be the short, sappy moment during which people catch up on football game scores. It can be more meaningful, and the 2013 Emmys really went out of the way to prove that this year.