Wednesday, September 30, 2009

l'étoile's Rob Callahan visits the Midwest Emmys

By Rob Callahan

We like to think of events here in Minnesota as subdued, calm and just a little bit awkward. I'd like to blame Garrison Keillor for the predominant worldview of my home state, but all he did was point out to the rest of the planet what we already knew about ourselves. Sure we're strong, good-looking and above average, but that whole hotdish thing is just all wrong. And the Minnesota Nice Lutherans? Forget it. Sometimes we just want to throw down and pat ourselves on the back in recognition of our own awesomeness, and just the time and place to do so is the Upper Midwest Emmys Award Ceremony, so on a nice Saturday evening I headed down to the Pantages Theater (and not to mention Seven Sushi, venue of the pre-party) to see which way this was going to go. Would it be awesome or awkward? As I went in and breathed deeply of the atmosphere, I began to sense deep down that this was going to go the way of awesome.

The guests and nominees mingling and milling about were a healthy mix of veterans and n00bs, but the up-and-coming new media types seemed to draw the most attention. Among the crowd I found Chuck Olson, the official tweeter for the Emmys, and we began a nice, casual conversation about the event and his involvement with it, which quickly devolved into our talking about whatever caught our attention. Our talk being too torrid and tangental for my humble talents to convey, I'll merely direct you to this brief clip of our interactions.

Soon, excited nominees began to file into the theater. I stopped a few on their way in for brief chats about their feelings. Among them, I stopped former FSN front man Ron Johnson, who's play-by-play prowess had helped to earn CTN Studios a nomination for Live/Unedited Sporting Event Coverage. He was both humbled and elated to have been a part of the larger group that created the show, and was attending the event for the first time. Among all of the nominees with whom I spoke a similar down-to-earth grasp of the occasion was prevalent. Everyone involved, from gophers to executive producers, was quick to acknowledge that their hard work was only part of the greater whole that brought their teams this far.

As the lights went down and the ceremony began, archetypal hip media personality Jason Matheson took the stage, soon thereafter joined by his equally-hip co-host Jeanette Trompeter, and together the two began the event. Jeanette gave brief instructions for first time winners (let the audience know who you are and what you do on the winning show, keep your speech succinct, stop for a picture before you leave the stage... that sort of thing) and then, one by one, the categories were announced and the winners' names were read.

Between awards, entertaining interludes were presented. The night opened with a video montage highlighting the work of fictional news anchor Ted Baxter, among others, and warmed up the crowd to the snappy jokes and one-liners that awaited them later on in the night. Also of note was the high-energy circus-themed dance routine by Soul to Soul Dance Conversion, resplendent in bright, primary colors and curly red wigs, in which dolled-up clowns and jesters alternated gyrations with acrobatics under the watchful eye of their voluptuous ringmaster. If you missed it, there's video:

The academy recognized the efforts of journalists covering last September's anarchic clash on the streets of Saint Paul with several awards, including Breaking News and Continuing Coverage. Accepting his award for reporting on KSTP, Mark Albert was graciously thankful on behalf of both himself and Jared Bergerson (photojournalist and co-nominee) for the win. “He and I braved that tear gas for four days in September,” Albert recalled, “and I know a lot of you did as well. Congratulations to us all for surviving.”

Those among us in the crowd who harbored some closeted, geekish sensibilities were excited to see Brendan Henehan accept the award for Public-Current-Community Affairs on behalf of himself, Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola. He, the producer and they, the hosts, were nominated for their work on TPT's Almanac. Now in its twenty-fifth year on the air, the show presents itself with the polish you'd expect from such an influential veteran production. The Twin Cities Public Television crowd, by the way, cheered louder and more uproariously than any other part of the audience as they let loose and showed their commercial TV counterparts that public broadcasting is as much about the party as it is the Masterpiece Theater.

In case my getting excited about Almanac didn't out me as a nerd, consider the Advanced Media Arts-Entertainment award, which went to UofM's Science of Watchmen, in which Professor James Kakalios recalls having been tapped to consult on the Watchmen film, and explains the various ways in which we can easily come to understand the powers of Dr. Manhatten through quantum mechanics.

A lot of truly talented and creative people were honored throughout the night, far more than I can summarize here (and why would I, when it's already there,) so for me the standouts were the fringe elements: The college stations, the cable access guys, reporters who fell unwittingly into the fray so their viewers wouldn't have to, the ones who brought us the personal story of a hero who might otherwise have gone unsung, and the webcasters, podcasters and bloggers working under constraints that would make a shoestring budget seem luxurious.

And my sentiments seemed to echo those of the greater gathering. We all honor the achievements of the broadcasting veterans who served as way-paving role models for the rest of us. Without the ground they've broken, there would be nowhere for the next generation to build, but our attention is focused now on the generation in question. In what ways will they further redefine the way we consume and interact with our news and entertainment, and how soon will it happen? Time and technology will tell, as will the next round of emmys, which I encourage you all to follow, be it on television, your laptop or your phone.

No comments: