Brace yourself for the longest Emmy awards telecast in history tomorrow night.
"The 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Show" will run four hours -- that's almost an hour longer than it ran last year. The extra time will be added at the front end, with the show starting at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., according to executive producer Don Mischer, who says there will also be other big changes in this year's telecast on NBC.
The most widely publicized has been the lack of a host. Variety, the industry trade publication, reported that Jerry Seinfeld and several other "four-star" celebrities had been offered the job and declined.
But Mischer -- who produced the last three Emmy telecasts, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and such landmark entertainment specials as "Motown 25" -- denies that anyone turned down the job.
"That's really not true. There were discussions a long time ago, back in the fall of last year -- should we go with a host or no host
-- and we made a decision from the outset that it felt better to have no single host or hosting team," he said.
"I mean, a host can be great, but also when things tend to go wrong, it's almost always in the host area, because hosts have to be serviced. They have comedic things they want to try. And there are very few people who can really do that well," he added.
One of the other big changes that will affect what viewers see on their screens tomorrow night is the result of moving the event from the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena to the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, according to Mischer. The Pasadena site, which is where the Emmys have always been held, seats 2,800. The Shrine holds more than 6,000.
"And I think that's going to add some energy in the hall -- 1,000 extra seats for television fans who would like to attend -- instead of only members of the industry," Mischer said.
"It's hard to do a show for an industry audience that kind of just sits there and folds their hands and says, you know, 'Impress me.' But when you get fans in the room, it really helps."
One of the reasons for the change is that tickets were getting so hard to come by. Nominees got only one ticket for themselves and one for a guest.
"And if someone like Jerry Seinfeld wanted to bring his mom or something, we always had to say no," Mischer said.
One problem with a larger audience will involve getting it to sit down and shut up when the broadcast is about to start.
"This is a really, really tough crowd to get into their seats. I'm telling you, all the schmoozing in the aisles. And you beg people to get in their seats and then it's like 10, 9, 8, and finally everybody scrambles to get into their seats," Mischer said.
It sounds as if Mischer has thought of everything, right down to bathroom breaks. Four hours instead of three will mean more bathroom breaks for those in the hall, he said.
"Same procedure, though," Mischer added. "You leave during one commercial break, return during another, and never near the time of your award."
As for the actual awards Sunday night, do the Emmys ever go to the artists we think they should? I quit thinking it would ever happen after Richard Mulligan won two years in a row for his work on the NBC sitcom "Empty Nest" in the early 1990s and when "Homicide: Life on the Street" kept getting passed over in recent years as Outstanding Drama.
Again, there will be no best drama Emmy for "Homicide," since it wasn't nominated, but James Yoshimura is up for best writing in a drama series for "The Subway" episode from last year, and I think he deserves it over David Milch ("NYPD Blue"), David E. Kelley ("The Practice") and Chris Carter ("The X-Files"). I suspect, though, the award will go to Kelley, who is riding a Hollywood high with "Ally McBeal."
Andre Braugher is also up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Wouldn't it be nice if he finally got his due for his last season of work on "Homicide"? But, again, I would bet on the award going to Dennis Franz of "NYPD Blue."
Other categories in which quality work will go unrewarded include Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series. Gillian Anderson should win for "The X-Files," but I'm guessing Jane Seymour will get a backlash victory vote because of CBS' canceling "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," as a result of its failure to attract young viewers.
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series will go to Patricia Richardson, because it is the last year for "Home Improvement," though Calista Flockhart is a possible. As bad as "Mad About You" has become with the baby, Helen Hunt is still the best actress doing comedy on TV.
Among those nominated for Outstanding Drama, "Law & Order" should win, but I bet David E. Kelley wins for "The Practice."
Outstanding Comedy Series will either go to "Ally McBeal" or "Frasier," but it should go to "The Larry Sanders Show."
The larger question, though, is how many of us will still be watching after almost four hours when most of these awards are finally presented?
TV's big night
What: The 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards
Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)
0$ When: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow
Pub Date: 9/12/98