After fumbling with a thin piece of black silk for half an hour in front of a YouTube video called “How to Tie the Perfect Bow Tie” and achieving only marginal success, I went to the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards. I was nominated for outstanding information talk show host. The other nominees were Steve Harvey and the hosts of “The Chew,” “The Dr. Oz Show, “Larry King Now” and “The Kitchen.” Harvey won.
I made my way down the red carpet ignored, thankfully, by the gaggle of press whose questions revolved around two themes – how do you feel to be here and tell us what you are wearing. The celebrities, mostly soap opera stars, had the generic attractiveness found on movie and television screens, some of it clearly enhanced through surgery and injections, and the bubbly effervescence we expect from entertainers.
“I dreamt about coming here as a little kid and now here I am,” Ross Mathews, a judge on RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” told Red Carpet TV. “I get to present tonight. Best game show. This is a moment, a day, I’ll never forget.”
I looked at the reporters and television crews behind the rope that stretched the length of the carpet and wondered what the ratio is between reporters in the United States who cover entertainment and fashion and reporters who cover the poor. I’m sure it is a bleak statistic.
After my ticket was examined, I was ushered into a hall with my fellow nominees, none of whom I recognized with the exception of Larry King, and was served champagne and snacks such as pita bread, hummus and olives.
Then we were hectored into the neighboring Pasadena Civic Auditorium by frequent public address announcements that counted down the minutes until the show began. We took our seats. The lights dimmed. The awards ceremony started.
“I’m definitely feeling the love right now,” Mario Lopez, a host of “Extra,” said to his Emmy co-host, the comedian Sheryl Underwood. “Are you feeling the love, Sheryl?”
“I’d like to feel the love, Mario,” Underwood, a host on “The Talk,” said. “What are you doing after the show?”
“Let’s talk about that later,” he answered.
“What do I have to do?” she asked. “Buy your wife a refrigerator?”
This kind of banter, usually with a much older man making sexual overtures to a young woman, is classic vaudeville. In an age of gender equality, it was updated for a 53-year-old woman and a man 10 years her junior. Underwood told Lopez he might be tied up with his own tie later.
“Is he gorgeous or what, ladies?” she asked. The audience cheered.
“Twitter is my second home,” she said. “My Twitter handle is @sherylunderwood. I have close to 1 million followers. How many do you have, Mario?”
“I’m not a big social media person,” he replied. “But I think the last time I checked I have around 1.3 million followers on Twitter.”
“You just had to brag,” she said. “I need to get me more Twitter followers. Step aside, Mario. I need to beg. I need everyone watching to follow me @sherylunderwood. Follow me right now. I need you to follow me. By the time this show is over, we’ll see who has the most followers. In fact, Mario, let’s make a deal. Whoever has the most followers at the end of the show has to have sex with the one who has the least. That’s a win-win for me either way. And let me tell you, Mario, there’s not enough baby oil in Pasadena for what’s going to happen to you tonight.”
This one-joke conceit dominated the night.
The awards were handed out by guest presenters, and the announcement of each winner was preceded by a video clip, viewed on an overhead screen, that featured the nominated show or person.
The clips were saturated with melodrama. Hunter King’s character in “The Young and the Restless” was shown by her mother’s hospital bed.
“I love you, Mom,” she said.
The heart rate monitor made a high-pitched “flat-line” beep.
“Mom? Mom? Mom, can you hear me?” she screamed.
The flatline beep continued.
“Mom, you can’t, you cannot leave me. Do you hear me? Please!”
Chloe Lanier from “General Hospital” was shown sitting naked in a bed. Her chest was covered with a comforter. She was talking to a man standing on the other side of the room.
“Please,” she implored him, “you cannot tell Carly about any of this. I do not want her to look at me differently.” She began to cry. “Please, I am begging you. You cannot tell her!” She slammed her fist on the mattress.
Lexi Ainsworth from “General Hospital” was up for outstanding younger actress, and in her clip her character asked her father, played by Maurice Benard, if he could accept having “a gay daughter,” and he said, “Of course, no question,” which given the current political climate is better than the alternative.
In the best game show category there were clips of Steve Harvey on “Family Feud” singing and dancing with a tambourine and a man screaming and jumping up and down on “The Price Is Right” as “$25,000” was displayed in large, red characters. The man fell to his knees and hugged the game show host.
At one point in the Emmy show, Lopez stopped and looked upward. “I’m sorry there seems to be a bit of commotion on the balcony,” he said. “Fans are … wait a minute. Sheryl? What are you doing?
The camera showed Underwood standing in the balcony.
“Follow me!” she said.
“Sheryl?” Lopez said. “What are you doing?
“Me and you have sex after the show because I’m getting more followers than you,” she said. “That’s why I’m out here in the balcony with the most amazing fans on daytime! I need them to follow me. I need them to follow me, Mario, I need them to follow me.”
“That is so shady,” Lopez said. “You know that’s a little underhanded.”
“Oh, that’s not underhanded,” she said. “That’s underwooded. And you know what we have to do in daytime. We have to trick a man for him to go to bed with us.”
The audience cheered.
Brandon McMillan, the host of the show “Lucky Dog,” brought out 50 dogs from DaphneyLand Basset Hound Rescue in presenting an award. The leashed dogs were paraded down the two aisles with individual handlers. “Each and every one of these wonderful dogs is looking for a home,” he announced.
There are nearly 600 homeless people living on the streets of Pasadena. I had walked past several earlier in the day. But homeless people don’t elicit oohs and ahhs or provide comic relief. And providing a home for the homeless is more complicated than adopting a dog.
When my category was called, the clips for outstanding information talk show host included the chef Mario Batali, one of the hosts of “The Chew,” holding a drink with a little paper umbrella in it and a plate with a huge cheese ball. “I wish I lived in a world where all apps could be one-handed,” he said, “that way I could have my drink in order to nosh on this fantastic cheese ball.”
Dr. Mehmet Oz was shown holding the hand of a woman lying on a table with a monitor, telling her she and her baby “can continue to bond.” The scene could have come from a soap opera.
There was a clip of the hosts of “The Kitchen” clinking glasses and eating sections of a hero sandwich that was several feet long, with chef Geoffrey Zakarian saying, “Now that’s what I call a superhero.”
Steve Harvey was shown saying to a man who was with his wife, “So date night for you would be a video game?”
“That’s savin’ us money,” the man said.
“Let me tell you what ain’t cheap – divorce,” Harvey responded.
My clip, taken from an interview with the Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf about Islam and the modern world, looked as if it was a tribute to some decades-old show on PBS. For its brief duration the hall was silent.
Soap operas, however tawdry and idiotic, were once confined to a limited cultural space. They did not claim to be anything but what they were – mass entertainment. Entertainment and celebrity worship, however, have taken over politics, culture and journalism. The lives of the famous and the infamous feed 24-hour news cycles. The news programs are our new soap operas. Who needs daytime soaps when we have Donald Trump and Sean Spicer? The five-day-a-week soap opera melodramas are quaint anachronisms.
There were once gradations of culture. There were once broadcast news programs that took journalism seriously. There were once talk shows that focused on books, political philosophy, economic theory, art and ideas. There was once a literate public. This is gone now, replaced by a vast burlesque. “Entertainment Tonight” – whose host, Mary Hart, was given a lifetime achievement award at the Pasadena ceremony – has taken over the news and information business. Almost all the shows on television today, from “Dr. Oz” to “General Hospital,” are about presenting a performance. Emotions replace opinions. Complex thought is banished. All solutions are simple. We are never challenged. It is comforting, amusing and reassuring. But it is cultural death. Societies that kill their cultures kill themselves.