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‘About Damn Time’: The 75th Emmys Were Making TV History as They Celebrated It

Upon walking into the Governors Gala, statuette in hand and partner Jessica Betts on her arm, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” star Niecy Nash-Betts, who gave the speech of the night upon accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, joked “I fell short of saying ‘About damn time,’” upon being reminded this was her fifth nomination (and fourth show she’s been nominated for.)

Though that quip is true of her specific circumstance, it also sums up the vibe of the night. For many of the milestones that occurred at the 75th Primetime Emmys on Monday, January 16, it really felt like “about damn time.”

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As the telecast walked the audience through television history, it was notable how well certain segments confronted some of the Television Academy’s shortcomings over the years. Hearing Trevor Noah is the first Black late night host to win Outstanding Talk Series for his final season of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” sounds even more outlandish when Aresenio Hall, best known for hosting his own groundbreaking late night show decades ago, was just brought out and feted minutes ago as a figure of television history necessary of highlighting.

“Abbott Elementary” creator-star Quinta Brunson, who already was the second Black woman to have won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series after the last Emmys, became the second Black woman ever to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The first was “The Jeffersons” star Isabel Sanford in 1981, when 34 year old Brunson had not even been born yet.

Having the cast of “Martin” explicitly discuss onstage how their show is still a cultural institution, yet was shut out of all major awards further emphasized how there were definitely deserving Black performers like Tisha Campbell that came between “The Jeffersons” and “Abbott Elementary.” Tracee Ellis Ross, another presenter that night, who was part of a properly chaotic bit paying homage to “I Love Lucy,” was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series six times for her work on “Black-ish.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 15: (L-R) Steven Yeun, winner of the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie award and the Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series award for “Beef,” and Lee Sung Jin, winner of the Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie award, Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie award, and the Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series award for “Beef,” attends the Governor's Gala for the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on January 15, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Steven Yeun and Lee Sung Jin attend the Governor’s Gala for the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

For those tired of diversity talk around awards, trust that the contenders from underrepresented backgrounds are just as weary of the situation. But the point of the conversation is not to just collect more historic firsts like “Beef” star Ali Wong becoming the first Asian performer to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, it’s to have be enough of an equitable playing field to where “The Bear” star Ayo Edebiri could become the third Black woman to win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and not have to process the weight of the moment the way her predecessor Sheryl Lee Ralph did, winning for “Abbott Elementary” Season 1 over three decades after “227” star Jackée Harry became the category’s first Black winner.

The “Beef” sweep of the top categories for Limited Series came with more firsts for Asian entertainers than can be concisely listed, which makes it even funnier to hear Jake Schreier, an executive producer and Emmy-nominated director of the Netflix dramedy, say in the lobby of the Peacock Theater prior to the ceremony that there was still a point in production where it felt like a “scrappy mess.”

Later at the Governors Gala, Young Mazino, the breakout of the Lee Sung Jin-helmed series, and an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie nominee that night, agreed that being there on behalf of the winning “Beef” would be hard to top. But being recently cast on “The Last of Us” does make it likely that he’ll be back soon in support of another major Emmys contender. “Finally,” said Mazino in jest at the mention that the dominant “Succession,” which mostly swept the Drama categories last night, has wrapped and made room for another show to receive the same honors.

Though the ceremony hit certain snags, with bits like the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” cast lamenting about not being invited to any previous Emmys and the 9/11 reference in a clip package that also featured Bart Simpson needing to be rethought, the 75th Primetime Emmys seemed to go over incredibly well with both audiences at home and in the theater—host Anthony Anderson being a sufficient guide through its journey through TV history. To have such a celebration of the medium occur in the same moments television history was being made felt like the platonic ideal of what an awards show should be. Fitting for it to come at the end of an unprecedented stretch of TV honors.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 15: (L-R) Lionel Boyce, Edwin Lee Gibson, Jeremy Allen White, winner of the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series award for “The Bear,” and Ayo Edebiri, winner of the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series award for “The Bear,” attend the Governor's Gala for the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on January 15, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Lionel Boyce, Edwin Lee Gibson, Jeremy Allen White, and Ayo Edebiri attend the Governor’s Gala for the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Next for television stars are the guild awards, where shows like “The Bear” can collect more trophies for Season 2 of the FX series after finally receiving Emmys for the first season 18 months after it premiered. Again in the lobby of the venue, prior to the Primetime Emmys start, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos was in tow with his team, which included Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria. The streamer is preparing for its first year as the new home of the SAG Awards, the next major awards show scheduled to air in America.

The executive had a laugh at the idea that Netflix, now preparing for its annual Netflix Is a Joke Festival that takes over Los Angeles for 11 days with hundreds of standup shows, would have trouble landing a comedian as the host of the SAG Awards. However, the field of talent it’s considering for the show, which airs live on Saturday, February 24, could be even wider. Sarandos suggested network talent like “Emily in Paris” star Ashley Park was an example of an entertainer that could make the most of an often-thankless job.

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