In planning this year's Emmy Awards, host Seth Meyers and his executive producer, Mike Shoemaker, took a cue from the Golden Globes. Shoemaker, who spoke with TV Guide Magazine behind the Nokia Theatre right after Monday night's telecast, says he and Meyers wanted to emulate how the Globes open by going straight to the jokes.
"Seth's thing is the monologue," Shoemaker says. "That's what we concentrated the most on. We pulled in the best people. The model was a lot closer to the Globes, which we had just worked on. We said, 'Let's just do that.' It didn't need to have an opening number."
Meyers and Shoemaker had earned an Emmy nomination this year for helping write material for Golden Globes hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Poehler and Fey returned the favor, submitting jokes for Meyers to use while hosting the Emmys.
Without an opening bit, Meyers had room to craft a longer monologue, and earned big laughs in the room for gags that hit close to home for the industry crowd, including one that skewered the inclusion of shows like Orange is the New Black in the comedy categories. "'Comedies that make you cry because they're dramas,' that's the epitome of a Seth Meyers joke," Shoemaker says, referring to a line that went over well with the audience. (Probably an early indicator that Orange wasn't going to pick up the Outstanding Comedy Series award that night.)
Poehler also served as a utility player for her former Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" co-anchor Meyers, showing up through the night to help with gags. "She was very willing," Shoemaker says, adding that fellow Meyers pals Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen also stepped up.
In the night's only extended taped piece, Meyers joined Billy on the Street's Billy Eichner as they raced around a New York block asking absurd questions (Eichner's specialty). Shoemaker said Eichner approached him and Meyers about taking part. "Seth and I know Billy, and we knew immediately it was going to be great," Shoemaker says. "It killed in the house."
In another segment, Meyers conducted a non-sequitur Q&A session with audience members like Melissa McCarthy and Jon Hamm. "That was never rehearsed with any of them," Shoemaker says. "We just contacted them in the last couple of days. It was all people we knew would be able to stand up, get a laugh and keep going."
The idea for approaching parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic (who performed made-up lyrics to instrumental TV theme songs) came from Late Night writer Alex Baze. Meyers contacted Yankovic, who's back in the pop culture zeitgeist with a No. 1 album. "All the writers plus 'Weird Al' wrote the parodies," says Shoemaker, who also brought in Samberg to participate. "When 'Weird Al' hit No. 1, I remember Seth saying Andy was so happy about it because they're legit fans. The idea of bringing Andy in made perfect sense."
Several performers also brought their own bits to the show, frequently not even revealing what they plan to do. "The frustrating thing is we can't control all of it, but luckily people like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel come in with all their own stuff," he says. "We see them when you see them."
The most elaborate presenter gag came from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston. When Cranston reminded Louis-Dreyfus that they kissed on an episode of Seinfeld, she feigned ignorance. Later, when she won the Outstanding Comedy Actress award for Veep, Cranston pulled her aside and forced a painfully long smooch. The two had planned the bit days earlier, not knowing whether they'd get a chance for the pay off. "I asked my husband if he was OK with that, he said 'sure,' and Bryan checked with his wife and she said sure, so we said we would go for it," Louis-Dreyfus told reporters backstage.
Shoemaker says Meyers' Emmy experience will provide plenty of storytelling fodder in the coming days on Late Night. But ultimately, very little went wrong. (Jimmy Fallon uttered an expletive on stage, but the show had a five-second delay for moments like that.) A few bits ended up on the cutting room floor, Shoemaker says, "but nothing that you really missed."