We watch the Emmy Awards to see the fierce fashion, to find out which of our favorite daytime TV shows will take home statues and, of course, to witness the melodramas that play out on the red carpet and on stage. On Sept. 19, 2021, we’ll get to watch the excitement unfold at the 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, but to whet our whistles, Wonderwall.com is taking us back in time to revisit some of the most jaw-dropping moments in Emmys history… starting with an impromptu kiss that made TV viewers of the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards wonder if a crime was being committed. As Julia Louis-Dreyfus walked toward the stage to accept her award for best lead actress in a comedy for her work on “Veep,” actor Bryan Cranston jumped in front of her, grabbed her and passionately kissed the shocked star. For viewers who were just tuning in, the smooch might have seemed like an unwanted advance, but audience members were in on the joke. Earlier, when Julia and Bryan presented the award for best lead actor in a comedy, Julia joked that Bryan looked oddly similar to an actor she’d worked with on “Seinfeld,” which made Bryan remind her that he was that actor and that the two had even shared an on-screen kiss. Julia ignored him and continued presenting the award, so Bryan must’ve decided the only way to truly jog her memory was to reenact the smooch as she walked toward the stage. Upon accepting her Emmy, Julia joked, “Um, yeah, he was on ‘Seinfeld.'”
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While hosting the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Jimmy Kimmel used his opening monologue to stir up some controversy. At the height of the 2016 election season, Jimmy wasted no time addressing the political elephant in the room. “Many have asked, who is to blame for Donald Trump? And I’ll tell you who. He’s sitting right there,” Jimmy said while pointing to producer and MGM president Mark Burnett. “That guy. Mark Burnett, the man who brought us ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ Thanks to Mark Burnett, we don’t have to watch reality shows because we’re living in one. If Donald Trump gets elected, and he builds that wall, the first person we’re throwing over is Mark Burnett.” While the mastermind behind the competition series that catapulted Donald to reality TV fame seemed to take Jimmy’s joke in stride (even when the audience booed him), he later thanked the late night talk show host for giving the would-be president free press coverage.
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At the 2018 Primetime Emmys, the audience was treated to a pretty romantic scene when Glenn Weiss won the Emmy for best variety special directing for his work on the 2018 Oscars. Instead of simply accepting his award, Glenn used his time at the podium to do something very special. During his speech, he got emotional while talking about his mother, who’d passed away two weeks earlier. He then turned his attention to his girlfriend, who was sitting in the audience, and spoke about how his mother had loved her. “Mom always believed in finding the sunshine in things and she adored my girlfriend, Jan. Jan, you are the sunshine in my life and Mom was right — don’t ever let go of of your sunshine,” Glenn said. “You wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife.” The audience loved it, and Jan Svendsen was in tears while she made her way to the stage, leading Glenn to quip, “I haven’t asked yet,” making it clear a proper proposal was coming. Once Jan joined him, Glenn pulled out a ring. “This is the ring that my dad put on my mother’s finger 67 years ago,” he said. He then got on his knee and popped the question, and Jan responded with an emphatic “yes.” In the wake of the happy moment, Page Six reported that some people weren’t enamored of the scene — namely, Glenn’s daughters. The outlet claimed that his girls, aged 17 and 21, were “shocked and blindsided” by the news and wished they would have been given some sort of heads up before their dad proposed, leaving them to find out along with the rest of the world while watching the telecast.
The Emmys show is known as a classy event. However, at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmys in 2008, the ceremony took a slight detour when the winner for outstanding original music and lyrics was announced. “Saturday Night Live” alum Andy Samberg of the musical comedy trio Lonely Island and his group members, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, took home the award that night for their hit song, “D*** in a Box” which, as you can guess, made for a hilarious moment. Even Andy seemed surprised they actually won the prestigious award for the lowbrow song.
After introducing TV Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum during the 66th Annual Primetime Emmys in 2014, Sofia Vergara was asked to stand on a revolving platform while Bruce spoke about the academy’s innovation and dedication to diversity, adding, “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewers something compelling to look at.” While the skit was intended to be funny, many criticized it as sexist. Twitter users were quick to point out that the objectification of Sofia was especially crude, given that the Academy had only awarded a Latina actress twice in its history. Amid a storm of controversy, Sofia was quick to defend the bit, saying, “Somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself.”
After garnering an impressive 16 Emmy nominations throughout his career, Jon Hamm finally won the Emmy for outstanding lead actor for his performance on “Mad Men” at the show in 2015. To accept his statue, the actor approached the stage and then decided to crawl over it instead of taking the stairs, leaving the audience to witness his backside in full glory. While no one is sure if his temporary prostration was a joke or not, it was clear Jon was genuinely surprised and thrilled that he’d won the award, saying, “There has been a terrible mistake, clearly.”
2008 was the year the Emmys were hosted by a panel of reality TV stars including Heidi Klum and Tom Bergeron (shown) as well as Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest — who all happened to be nominated for an Emmy in the newest award category at the time, best reality host. During an unrehearsed skit, Heidi pretended to swoon, falling into co-host Tom’s arms. The only problem? Tom dropped the leggy model, which caused her to hit the ground, hard. Backstage later, the pair showed off Heidi’s magnificent bruise from the accidental fall. Of the group of nominated hosts, Jeff Probst took home the Emmy, while Heidi took home what looked like a painful injury.
TMI took center stage at the 43rd Primetime Emmy Awards show in 1991 when actress Kirstie Alley won for best lead actress in a comedy series. While giving her acceptance speech, Kirstie thanked her then-husband Parker Stevenson for being “the man who has given me the big one for the last eight years.” What makes this especially hilarious was that in the early ’90s talking about sex, even in euphemisms, was still considered taboo. Plus, the person who presented the award category was none other than 11-year-old Macaulay Culkin, who must’ve felt really uncomfortable standing on stage with Kirstie. To make light of the speech later that night, actor Burt Reynolds (who won for best lead actor in a comedy series) thanked his busty wife Loni Anderson for giving him “two big ones” — which caused the audience to erupt in laughter.
At the 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards, Netflix earned its first accolade in the unstructured reality category for “Cheer.” The moment should have been totally celebratory for the production company and the Navarro College Bulldog cheerleaders who appeared on the series — except for the fact that the win came just 24 hours after the show’s breakout star, Jerry Harris (third from left), was charged with federal child pornography crimes. (In December 2020, Jerry pleaded not guilty to seven charges.) Voting for TV Academy members had already closed before Jerry’s arrest.
The real Sean Spicer showed up as part of host Stephen Colbert’s opening skit at the 2017 Emmys. During Stephen’s bit, he joked that there was no way to estimate the size of the Emmys crowd or the show’s ratings. Suddenly, the former White House press secretary came out behind a mobile press podium, much to the absolute shock of the crowd. “This is the biggest audience to witness an Emmys ever, both in person and in the world,” he said, a nod to his previous claim while serving in Donald Trump’s administration that the 2017 presidential inauguration was the most attended in history. Sean said it with a smile while the crowd roared with laughter. The bit ended with Stephen saying, “Thank you, Melissa McCarthy” — a nod to when Melissa impersonated Sean on “Saturday Night Live” in the spring of 2017.
Comedian Groucho Marx not only hosted the third Primetime Emmy Awards on Jan. 23, 1951, but also won a statue. When former Miss America Rosemary LaPlanche announced Groucho as the winner for most outstanding personality, he shocked the audience by grabbing her instead of the award. Groucho was later asked by a reporter why he accosted Rosemary and he claimed he mistakenly thought she was the Emmy. Sure, Groucho…
When Sally Field won the Emmy for best lead actress in a drama series at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2007, she used her moment on stage to express her intense and slightly confusing views on war. First she thanked the production crew and her fellow actors on “Brothers & Sisters,” but then Sally’s speech awkwardly shifted over to mothers who were waiting for their children to come home from war. After resounding applause from the audience, things got weird when Sally began mumbling and stuttering, saying “Those are good days into war they… yeah, oh god… I forgot what I was going to say… um…” She followed by declaring, “If the mothers ruled the world, there would be no god-damned wars in the first place.” By then, FOX had already hit play on their “get off the stage” music, but Sally was queen and left when she was good and ready.
When one thinks of Helen Mirren, one usually pictures a woman of elegance and class, not a sailor with a potty mouth. The bubble nearly burst at the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2006 when Helen won the award for best lead actress in a miniseries or movie. After reaching the stage to accept her statue, Helen joked that it was “a great triumph not falling a** over t*** as I came up those stairs.” The best part? Producers weren’t fast enough to bleep Helen, meaning her curse words were also heard by millions of TV viewers.
While hosting the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, comedian Andy Samberg made viewers extremely happy. In response to HBO CEO Richard Plepler stating that he didn’t care if subscribers shared their login credentials with friends and family, Andy decided to share his HBO NOW username and password. While some might have thought Andy was only joking, fans soon realized they were able to access his account and watch all the “Game of Thrones” episodes they wanted. Was HBO mad? Not in the slightest. In fact, on their official Twitter account they tweeted, “Lucky for you, @AndySamberg is a very generous #Emmys host” and included the username and password one more time for fans who might have missed it. Although it only worked for a day, it was pretty much the coolest Emmy swag any of us have ever (or will ever) get.
At the 22nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 1970, things got super-weird when Patty Duke was announced as the winner for best single performance by a leading actress. Instead of accepting her award as she approached the podium, Patty walked around the presenter and then awkwardly grabbed her statue by reaching her hand out on her side, never making eye contact. After standing silently for an uncomfortably long time, Patty mumbled a thank you to someone named Damien Evans, then spotted her mom in the crowd and told her “happy birthday” before pausing once again. Parsing her words out slowly, the young actress finally shared that she was taught not to say “thank you” for too long and that her three favorite words were “hello, enthusiasm and [insert another long awkward pause here] thank you.” While no one will know for sure what was going on with the late star at the time, years later she spoke publicly about her battle with addiction and mental illness — making her Emmy acceptance speech more a sad revelation of her personal troubles than a funny moment in history.
The 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards was, in many ways, awkward and cringeworthy. After all, it was one of the first major award shows to be held in the midst of a pandemic! Things got uncomfortable when host Jimmy Kimmel made a quip about how he was going to report “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) after the British comedian’s show beat “Jimmy Kimmel Live” for outstanding talk series. The internet had some thoughts, with many Twitter users criticizing Jimmy for exhibiting his white privilege and accusing his remarks of being tone deaf and insensitive especially at a time when there was a lot of tension surrounding immigration enforcement and agents’ behavior.
During the 31st Annual Primetime Emmys, Alan Alda was announced as the winner for outstanding writing for a comedy series for his work on “M*A*S*H,” which was the first award he ever received for writing — something he’d dreamed of since he was a child. He was so ecstatic about the win, in fact, that as he approached the stage, he did an impromptu cartwheel in front of the entire audience. His joy was palpable and Alan went down in history as the first winner who incorporated gymnastics into his acceptance speech.
In 1985, actress Betty Thomas was announced as the winner of the best supporting actress in a drama series prize at the 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. As she made her way to the stage to accept her award, she was shocked to find someone else had taken her statue and was standing at the podium. A man by the name of Barry Breman (later dubbed The Great Imposter for his habit of sneaking into A-list events) spoke into the mic saying, “Betty was not able to be here and she asked for me to accept this award and thank everybody else who is here. Thank you, thank everybody and especially Dick Shaap.” The audience, thinking it was all a pre-planned joke, erupted in laughter, especially as Betty walked toward Barry with a look of humorous annoyance. Realizing something was wrong, producers went to commercial to figure out what had happened. When the show resumed, Betty was standing at the podium with her award, trying her best not to laugh. When she finally did speak, she said, “Well, it is definitely hard to follow an act like that. “
We’ll never know if Lucille Ball was pulling our legs at the 27th Annual Primetime Emmys in 1975. As she presented the award for outstanding comedy series, she paused and stared at the envelope, seeming confused. She looked at the audience and told them she forgot her glasses, which made everyone giggle. Then the comedian tossed the envelope, claiming she’d grabbed the wrong one, only to realize all the award envelopes were at the podium. (Can’t you just hear Ricky Ricardo screaming, “Luuuucy!”?) Lucille shook her head and told everyone she was in trouble, creating a roar of laughter in the audience (and proving she still could get a crowd going). Finally, help came in the form of an empty wine glass (which Lucille pushed away) and a borrowed pair of spectacles, which she wore upside down in order to announce the winner, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Aging eyes or comedic genius? The world will never know.
In March 2011, hard-partying actor Charlie Sheen was fired from the sitcom “Two and a Half Men” for his erratic, often drug-fueled behavior. In response to the firing, Charlie unleashed a torrent of nonstop vitriol, mostly directed at producer Chuck Lorre, as well as the cast and crew of his former show. To capitalize on the media frenzy surrounding his fall from grace, the troubled star launched the ill-conceived comedy tour “My Violent Torpedo of Truth,” which was widely panned as nonsensical and poorly executed. All in all, it was clear Charlie was the conductor of his own train wreck. Then came the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmys in 2011. Charlie was asked to present the award for best lead actor in a comedy series and nearly everyone expected for the worst. Surprisingly, after six months of public bitterness, Charlie walked on stage at the Emmys and decided not to engage in further attacks, but to clear the air with his former TV family, saying: “From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season.” For a second, you could hear a pin drop in the audience, as everyone was stunned. Charlie’s words were met with resounding applause and hope that the cantankerous star actually meant what he said.
While actress Barbara Stanwyck’s dress mishap at the 13th Annual Primetime Emmys in 1961 wasn’t really controversial, it was embarrassing for the acclaimed star — and was the first time cameras were able to record a snafu at the Emmys. When Barbara stood to accept her award for best actress, her cape was caught on the back of her dress. As everyone craned their necks to watch the frantic action of two helpers who worked to free the trapped star, cameras honed in on Barbara’s uncomfortable face. Thankfully, someone had the bright idea to rip the cape off and finally Barbara was able to ascend the stage. In an age where stars seemed above human foibles, it was refreshing to see that even they had clothing malfunctions.
It was a match of opposites when Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy (seen here at the 1989 American Music Awards) co-hosted the 35th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 1983. As should have been expected, Joan (who was known for her foul mouth and shocking sense of humor) and Eddie (who was actually the tamer entertainer at the event but still pushed the envelope far past what was considered appropriate) made jaws drop with their not-safe-for-TV routine. In addition to telling a joke about “a black, a Jew, two women and a cripple,” Joan also let a few expletives slip during the ceremony. While the duo certainly kept audiences entertained, neither were ever asked to host the show again.
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