Emmys' Williams tribute fraught with danger
As millions of viewers around the world tune into today's 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, many will come not for the honours and the accolades but to remember the iconic comedian and actor Robin Williams, who died earlier this month.
Though much of Williams' career was in film, he cut his comedic teeth in television as the star of the hit comedy Mork & Mindy, and television was a genre where many felt his heart always remained.
A planned reflection on Williams' life, presented by his friend, the actor and comedian Billy Crystal, is one of the most anticipated segments planned for the broadcast.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which produces the Emmy telecast, and whose membership awards the statues, is treading carefully as history has shown the "in memoriam" segment is fraught with risk.
The Emmys famously drew fire for omitting actor Jeff Conaway, who died in 2011. And the Oscars was roasted for leaving Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur off their "in memoriam" segment in 2010, and Andy Griffith and Larry Hagman from the feature in 2013.
But it was at last year's Emmy Awards that the segment caused the loudest and most extraordinary upset.
The producers elected to single out five individuals for special focus: actor James Gandolfini, producer Gary David Goldberg, the iconic Jean Stapleton, comedian Jonathan Winters and Glee star Cory Monteith.
Montheith's inclusion, at the expense of older actors with larger bodies of work, such as Dallas star Larry Hagman and The Odd Couple and Quincy star Jack Klugman, triggered a backlash.
Klugman's son Adam accused the producers publicly of "celebrating this self-inflicted tragedy instead of celebrating the life of my father, who won three Emmys".
Klugman said he bore no ill will towards Monteith but "to compare the contribution he made to the contribution my father made, it doesn't compare".
Consequently, the producers of the 2014 telecast are treading carefully.
The "in memoriam" segment will be introduced by Crystal and will feature Williams prominently but it will not be separated from the main package honouring those in front of and behind the camera who have died in the past year.
Executive producer Don Mischer said the Emmys were "working to give Robin Williams the proper and meaningful remembrance he so well deserves".
Though the Academy does not pre-release the names of those who will be included in the in memoriam segment, 2014 has seen an almost unprecedented number of high-profile celebrity deaths.
They include actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Shirley Temple, Kate O'Mara and Mickey Rooney, as well as Russell Johnson (The Professor, from Gillligan's Island), Dave Madden (manager Reuben Kincaid, from The Partridge Family), Ann B. Davis (housekeeper Alice, from The Brady Bunch), Ralph Waite (dad John Walton, from The Waltons) and James Garner (The Rockford Files).
Other television luminaries less familiar to New Zealand viewers who have died in 2014 include animation pioneer Arthur Rankin, Jr., Latin American actress Carmen Zapata, model and "Marlboro Man" Eric Lawson, comedian Sid Caesar, American TV journalist Garrick Utley, voice actors Casey Kasem and Hal Douglas and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (Batman, The Green Hornet).
Sydney Morning Herald