Early this morning, an enormous amount of effort went into about three minutes of television.
Not even three minutes of an elaborate stunt. This was the announcement of the prime-time Emmy nominations, broadcast live from North Hollywood and immediately chewed on by commentators across the nation.
I was in the audience when the announcements were made at 5:39 a.m. Los Angeles time. That by itself is a miracle, since the readers of my previous posting will know I had a late night Wednesday.
To get there, I had caught a shuttle the Emmy folks provided for the out-of-town press from the Beverly Hilton to the television academy's headquarters. Six of us had the steel to make it for the shuttle's scheduled departure at 4 a.m. -- although steel can bend that early in the day. One reporter persuaded the shuttle driver to stop at Starbucks on the way back from the announcements.
Once you get to The Academy -- as one sign outside the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre concisely declares -- you're confronted with a design scheme that is close to a Hollwyood rendering of ancient Rome. The plaza is dominated by a fountain with a huge replica of the Emmy statuette in the middle. Placed around it are statues and busts of TV legends: Phil Donahue, Barbara Walters, David Wolper, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason. There are also a few pedestals missing statues, Angela Lansbury's and Bob Mackie's among them.
But that's all prologue to the Emmy business, which took place in a steeply inclined theater. On the aisles were signs marking rows for different organizations -- Entertainment Tonight, Extra, CNN, Access Hollywood, the Today show, Good Morning America and so on.
E!, which devotes hours to Emmy coverage, had a large space all to itself close to the stage. Not far from it was a riser for cameramen and still photographers, with a monitor bearing the speakers' lines right in the middle. (Before the announcements, one Emmy official warned photographers not to block the line of sight to the stage, so the speakers could see their lines scroll on the monitor.)
Once I got a seat near the front -- a row behind Spike Jones Jr., who produces the Emmys' minor-awards ceremony -- I just had to wait for something to happen. And wait. One man in the hall had described what was coming this way: ''At 5:30, they're going to do, like, blah blah blah, and they're going to broadcast that.''
A voice occasionally gave warnings like, ''We are now 3 minutes to air. Three minutes.'' People were urged to fill the seats in the front of the hall (to make the crowd look bigger on TV, of course). The producers of Emmy ceremonies -- whose seats had been reserved by pieces of tape with their names handwritten in marker on them -- were introduced. The seemingly disembodied voice urged everyone to be enthusiastic about shows when the nominations were read, a suggestion that was intermittently acted on. Michael Imperioli and Jami Gertz, who were set to read some of the award announcements, peeked from behind the stage's backdrop, then chatted until it was time to take the stage.
They breezed through 10 comedy and drama categories, as images of the nominated shows and individuals appearing on screens behind them. Academy Chairman Dick Atkins read one more category (reality-competition program) and it was time to say goodbye. The crowd began to melt away. Our little group headed off to Starbucks -- and real work, sifting through pages of nomination information.