Jimmy Kimmel presides over a solid but unspectacular 2012 Emmy telecast

Jimmy Kimmel‘s performance as Emmy host will probably not be remembered as one of the best on TV’s biggest stage, but he nevertheless held his own in the often thankless role – especially thankless because Emmy ceremonies are ineligible to compete for Emmys. Several comedy segments worked. Of the ones that didn’t, none made me cringe. Am I damning with faint praise?

The night opened well with a taped segment in which a frightened Kimmel avoids the Emmy stage after a botched botox procedure. Though the premise was shaky, it was bolstered by the participation of many of this year’s nominated actresses, including Christina Hendricks, Lena Dunham, Zooey Deschanel, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The night continued much the same way, with pre-taped segments overshadowing the on-stage entertainment. We were treated to a “Modern Family” sketch in which youngest cast member Audrey Anderson-Emmons (who plays Cam and Mitchell’s daughter Lily) is revealed to be a tyrannical diva, and another showing a deranged mash-up of “Breaking Bad” and the wholesome classic “The Andy Griffith Show.”

The presentations of the series writing and directing nominees were refreshing. Clip packages showed the nominees — including Matthew Weiner, Steven Levitan, and Dunham — playfully answering questions about their craft. That slightly made up for the loss of Variety Series Writing, which is usually an opportunity for shows like “Colbert Report” and “Saturday Night Live” to present an innovative roll-call of their writing staffs, but that category was presented at Creative Arts this year.

Less successful was the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” celebrating the Emmy accountants. It was a worthy attempt to bring some creative energy to the honoring of the ballot-counters, but not as effective as one might have hoped.

On-stage segments were hit-and-miss, including both the celebrity presenters and Kimmel himself. The irreverent host promised us the biggest prank in Emmy history, but he oversold it. When it finally materialized – fooling non-Emmy watchers into thinking Tracy Morgan had collapsed on stage – it seemed like a setup without a payoff; Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere awkwardly presented the next award while Morgan laid there, and then the bit was abandoned after the commercial break.

But Kimmel did have stronger moments, particularly following his inevitable Variety Series loss to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” after which he scolded his parents for giving him hope and had security escort them out of the building.

Of the presenters, the best were the actors and comedians we usually expect. Melissa McCarthy lustily flirted with each Comedy Actor nominee as his name was read. Tina Fey read gibberish from her teleprompter when presenting Drama Actress, having apparently forgotten her reading glasses.

Ricky Gervais poked fun at his own Golden Globes performances while presenting Variety Special Directing, pausing in the middle to rib nominee Louis C.K., who lost to Tony Awards helmer Glenn Weiss, thus making C.K. only the second best comic in the world.

Stephen Colbert praised the fairer sex when presenting Comedy Actress, except for the two unspecified nominees who, he assured us, were quite terrible. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won that award for “Veep,” her third career Emmy, after which she embraced her fellow nominee Amy Poehler and they mistakenly swapped acceptance speeches; that gag was funnier than most of the first season of “Veep.”

Towards the end of the night, the show’s pacing became rushed, almost panicked in its attempt to end on time. Presentations were faster, acceptance speeches were cut off sooner. When there’s such a time crunch, the night’s most highly anticipated categories – Movie/Miniseries, Drama Series, and Comedy Series – tend to get shortchanged. As a television viewer, wouldn’t you rather the telecast run 10 minutes long than watch such a mad dash to the exit?


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