Turning the lesser-known Creative Arts Emmy Awards into an interesting television event has always been a challenge. The anti-climactic show, whose winners are announced a week before the telecast airs, doesn't boast the same popular categories and ample A-listers of the Primetime Emmys.
But a couple of unexpected moments at the awards handout promise to make for a much more appealing telecast this year. Kathy Griffin's raucous remarks about Jesus, and the racy "(Blank) in a Box" "Saturday Night Live" video, which took best-song honors, generated a publicity buzz the show rarely enjoys.
"Controversy always helps," said executive producer John Moffitt. "We're always happy to have an additional reason for people to tune in and hear for themselves," he said, calling the telecast, which airs Saturday (8 p.m. EDT) on E!, "the most entertaining show we've ever done."
A few days before the awards were presented on Sept. 8 at the Shrine Auditorium, writers and producers met with host Carlos Mencia to brainstorm about the Creative Arts show. The goal: to make a show that honors hairstyling, lighting direction, casting and other technical accomplishments compelling viewing.
Its 20 acts were carefully plotted out on a wall-sized white board. Magnets held 3-by-5 cards proclaiming each category and presenter. At that point, changing the order of the show was as easy as moving magnets around -- which is exactly what production supervisor Tina Cannizzaro DeBone did when Mencia suggested a quip he might make about presenter Neil Patrick Harris.
"It's just about getting a joke in there," Mencia explained to the group.
While ignoring a platter of bagels and fruit, the producers and writers tossed ideas around for several hours. They discussed a baseball theme, including a seventh-inning stretch, peanuts, hats, foam fingers and the organist from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"How do you feel about a woman there who has a bigger organ than you?" coordinating producer Carole Propp asked Mencia.
"It wouldn't be the first time," he replied.
Producer Spike Jones Jr. asked two of the show's writers to pen lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Emmys," a twist on the traditional baseball anthem.
"And it's one, two, three hours long at the old Creative Arts Emmys," writer Tony Desena suggested in tune. (The actual awards presentation ran close to four hours, but will be edited to a tidy two-hour telecast.)
Mencia said his objective for the show was clear: "We have to convince people that these awards are important. They are the foundation upon which we do all of our work as entertainers."
Moffitt praised the foundation that the writers eventually settled on, and said that the addition of the controversial moments should ratchet up interest in the telecast.
"The unexpected is what makes these shows work," he said.
"It's like catching lightning in a bottle," said executive producer Lee Miller. "If you can deal with a controversial moment, it becomes the electricity that generates excitement in the program."