Magazine article Variety

Top Ten Turning Points

Magazine article Variety

Top Ten Turning Points

Article excerpt

Key moments that changed course of Emmy history

HJan. 25.1949

Fewer than 1 million TV sets dot the nation when the first Emmys are awarded at the Hollywood Athletic Club. At a decidedly local affair, most prizes go to live KTLA programming. Surprise honorees as most outstanding personality are 21-year-old ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale and her dummy "Judy Splinters," renowned as a sassy ad-libber on a daily 15-minute skein featuring birthday greetings and monologues. You heard right, the Emmy goes to both Judy and Shirley, who will pass away in 1999. The original Splinters makes her home with family in New York.

March 7,1955

With 25 million consoles now in use, Emmy grows up. The first coast-to-coast telecast is jointly held in Gotham and L.A. niteries. Achievements in sports, news, music, editing, art direction and engineering effects gain recognition. Honors stack up for anthology series like "U.S. Steel Hour," "Hallmark Hall of Fame" and "Studio One," later associated with the so-called Golden Age. Alistair Cooke's "Omnibus" takes a cultural programming award, and Reginald Rose wins for writing "Twelve Angry Men." Over the years, frivolous stuff will be tossed occasional kudos, but there'll be no more primetime awards to dummies. Wooden ones, anyway.

June 20,1960

TV will accept hugs for long-overdue recognition of African-American talent when Bill Cosby is named 1966's lead drama actor for "I Spy." But pundits have lost sight of the real trailblazer. In 1955, Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis Jr. were bested by Marcel Marceau. Five years later comes "Tonight With Belafonte," a simple hour of spirituals, folksongs, protest ballads and calypso co-starring Odetta. Effortlessly, the suave star makes history as the first Emmy-winning performer of color.

May 26,1963

Demonstrating Emmy/D.C. affinity, a broadcast segment takes place in the nation's capital. President Kennedy receives a Trustees Award "for news conferences and in honor of his continued recognition of television's importance to a free society." Dwight Eisenhower previously won the same honor for encouraging television, as did Sen. Estes Kefauver for exposing the Mafia in televised hearings. But current affairs are particularly on the academy's mind in the early '60s. Program of the year is "The Hmnel," a documentary of a mass escape beneath the Berlin Wall, and next year's top honor will go to "The Making of the President 1960," examining the final electoral triumph of the slain leader the industry loved.

June 4( 1967

Emmy tunes in, turns on and embraces youth. Four-time comedy winner "The Dick Van Dyke Show" has departed to rerun heaven, passing the trophy to "The Monkees," the wacko pop-rock sitcom ushering in a new age of frenetic "Hard Day's Night"-inspired visuals and offbeat jokes. Voted top drama is "Mission: Impossible," turbocharged for the Bond generation. The following year, Nielsen champ "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" will triumph for its culture-changing bursts of flower power, and in 1969 "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" will protest its way to a writing prize. The times, they are a-changin'.

Sept. 11,1977

Nine statuettes and a never-beaten total of 37 nominations acknowledge the unique stature of Alex Haley's "Roots." Academy senior awards veep John Leverence points out that many naively assumed "slavery was like having a really crappy job," but David Wolper's re-creation of its real horrors causes "a sea change in American attitudesRecord-setting ratings accrue to ABC's unique gambit of airing 12 hours over eight consecutive days (initiating a national water-cooler conversation). …

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