It was hard to walk away from last year’s Emmys without a smile. The 2017 awards show kicked off a wave of feminist TV show wins, from Big Little Lies’ unstoppable showing to The Handmaid’s Tale win for Outstanding Drama, breaking a decades-long line of ultra-masculine title holders (save for the still-pretty-macho Homeland win in 2012). Women essentially won the night.
But, when you go back and look at the September 2017 telecast with #MeToo colored lenses on, everything looks a little bit darker — a little bit kinder to men we now know to be alleged or confirmed predators. The 69th Primetime Emmys, which aired less than a month before Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a sexual predator, will forever stand as the last awards show before movements like #MeToo and Time's Up began dominating the Hollywood discourse — and it shows.
In 2017, the Outstanding Actor In A Comedy Series race appeared to be an inclusive who’s who of some of our funniest, most beloved actors. Its members included Anthony Anderson, Aziz Ansari, Jeffrey Tambor, Donald Glover, William H. Macy, and Zach Galifianakis.
Now, a mere 12 months later, exactly half of that list has fallen under #MeToo scrutiny.
Master Of None’s Ansari, formerly a woke internet boyfriend, was felled by sexual coercion allegations that were in no way criminal, but started necessary, painful conversations about consent. Transparent star Tambor was officially fired from his Amazon series in February 2018, a mere five months after his Emmy showing, due to multiple sexual harassment claims. While the awards show favorite was eligible for 2018 nominations following his latest work on both Transparent and Arrested Development, itself a #MeToo disaster, none came. Sexual assault charges were dropped against Black-ish dad Anthony Anderson less than two weeks ago.
Over on the drama side of the awards, only one 2017 Emmy-nominated leading man has been outed as an alleged predator: Kevin Spacey. In the last 11 months, 15 individuals have accused the disgraced House Of Cards lead of sexual harassment or assault, with former co-star Anthony Rapp leading the way. In late October, Rapp revealed to BuzzFeed that Spacey made sexual advances towards him when he was 14 and Spacey was 26 years old. Now, Spacey has been scrubbed from the final season of his Netflix show, the one that used to be his ticket to awards show glory. Frank Underwood has seemingly been killed off, and Frank’s regal wife Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has taken his seat behind the Resolute Desk. Spacey was eligible for another Emmy nomination this year, but failed to received one.
While we now know the darkness lurking behind the smiles of Spacey and Tambor and many other much-nominated men, we didn’t during the 2017 Emmy's live taping. That’s why the telecast is filled with these actors. Anderson, who denied the eventually-dropped sexual assault allegations levied against him in July, was the first celebrity to appear in host Stephen Colbert’s pre-taped opening number in 2017. The black-ish star, Tambor, and Spacey all appear multiple times during the first moments of the show in audience cutaways.
Although those starring appearances during the awards show are now jarring, no moment seems more out of place in Colbert’s Emmys kickoff than his show of appreciation for his boss at the time, Leslie “Les” Moonves. In the year since the Emmys, Ronan Farrow has written two exposés revealing now-ousted CBS chairman Moonves’ decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault. (Moonves has denied all the allegations.) But, in September 2017, the narrative around the TV CEO couldn’t have been more different, with Colbert joking in his monologue, “I have to take a moment here to thank CBS chairman Leslie Moonves. I literally have to thank him, it’s in my contract. Unfortunately, Les could not be here tonight receive my gratitude, so I accept it on his behalf.”
The entire crowd erupted in laughter. Now, if it were even possible to make such a joke, it would be met with pained silence. In July, following Farrow’s first New Yorker story about Moonves’ history of alleged sexual misconduct, Colbert himself demanded his boss be held “accountable” for his actions. Last week, when Moonves’ firing became inevitable, Colbert read directly from Farrow’s second New Yorker piece. The late night host called the new allegations “disturbing,” mocked one of his home network’s racier advertisements (knowing what we know now about the longtime head of CBS, his network’s creepy “He’ll get you off” Bull marketing seems exponentially creepier), and announced, “That's it, Les Moonves is gone.”
After a year of dragging supposedly predatory men like Moonves, Weinstein, Spacey, and Tambor into the light for their allegedly abusive actions, it would be nice to go into the 2018 Emmys confident every single person up for an award isn’t a monster behind closed doors. It would be nice to believe all the nightmare people in TV are really “gone,” as Colbert said of Moonves.
All we can do is hope the progress of the last year continues into the 2019 Emmys, the 2020 Emmys, and beyond.
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