72 years of Emmy history
One month after network television was born, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was founded. The nonprofit organization dedicated itself to “the advancement of telecommunication arts and sciences and to fostering creative leadership in the telecommunication industry.” Today, 72 years on, the Academy remains the only major organization devoted to television and broadband screen entertainment industry.
The Television Academy is made up of more than 24,000 members who are subdivided into 30 different peer groups of various expertise: performers, writers, directors, producers, and art directors, as well as technicians, executives, and other artisans. It’s this body of professionals who are behind TV’s biggest, and most recognizable, awards ceremony: the Emmy Awards.
The Emmy Awards are about to enter its 72nd year (the Primetime Emmy Awards, that is). From the ceremony’s first iteration in 1949, the field of television has grown so extensively that the Emmys have now been divided into three separate events, all honoring different aspects of the industry. The Emmy Awards, both primetime and daytime, honor the best series, actors, writers, directors, costumes, and so on. These awards are the flagship event and the one that the Academy is best known for. The Creative Emmy Awards, which traditionally air a week before the Primetime Emmys, recognize excellence in technical, creative, and craft categories, while the Engineering Emmy Awards acknowledge accomplishments in the technology used to make television.
The Emmys will make history again this year—2020 will mark the first year that the award show will go virtual due to COVID-19. But even with a remote ceremony, the depth and breadth of shows nominated this year are sure to create a competitive and exciting landscape.
From groundbreaking moments, like Harry Belafonte’s 1960 win, to changes in procedure, like the first 1965 morning nomination announcements, to controversial years, like Stephen Colbert’s overtly political monologue in 2017, this article highlights some of the biggest and most interesting pieces of Emmys trivia. With data pulled from the Emmys' website and other news sources, read on to see how the awards ceremony has grown and evolved over the years.
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The Emmy Awards were conceived in 1948 by the Television Academy’s founding fathers. The group struggled to find an appropriate name for their new trophy, until future Academy president, Harry Lubcke, suggested “Immy,” an industry nickname for a TV’s image-orthicon camera tube. The name was eventually feminized to 'Emmy' to match the winged statuette, the muse of art holding up the electron of science.
The inaugural Emmy Awards ceremony was held on Jan. 25, 1949, at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Hosted by radio legend Walter O’Keefe, tickets to the ceremony cost $5 and only Los Angeles area programs were considered by the governing body. As such, the very first Emmy, given in the category of Most Outstanding Television Personality, went to ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale (and her puppet sidekick, Judy Splinters) for her work on “The Judy Splinters Show.”
The first Emmy Awards only gave out awards in five categories: Best Film Made for Television, Most Outstanding Television Personality, Most Popular Television Program, a technical award, a special one-time award, and the station award for Outstanding Overall Achievement. In 1950, the Academy added several categories, including one for best commercial, which went to cigarette company Lucky Strike.
In 1951, the 3rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards had an unusual host: a future chief justice in the United States Supreme Court. At the time, Earl Warren was the governor of California. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1953, after a failed presidential bid, that he was appointed the 14th chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Hosted by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the 1952 Emmy Awards were the first to consider shows outside of Los Angeles area programming. Previously, only shows that had been produced or aired in the L.A. area were eligible to win. But in 1952, “Your Show of Shows,” which was filmed in New York City and aired nationwide, won the trophy for best variety show.
[Pictured: Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar of "Your Show of Shows"]
According to “Variety” columnist Sheilah Graham, the 1953 awards weren’t the Emmy’s best year. In her write up she noted, “Nothing much happened at the Emmy Awards, apart from the stage proscenium falling down and conking a violinist on the head, and the mic going out of order for 10 minutes, silencing (host) Art Linkletter.” Another article in the magazine referred to the evening as “bedlam” because the waiters and kitchen staff at the new venue weren’t concerned with keeping the volume level down, which interfered with the ceremony itself.
[Pictured: "What's My Line?" which won Best Audience Participation Program]
1954 saw a major change in nominations for actors and actresses in both lead and supporting roles. Prior to that year, actors and actresses were simply nominated as individuals. But from the 1954 ceremony on, they were required to be nominated for their work within a specific show.
[Pictured: Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball]
The 1955 Emmy Awards were the first Emmys to be broadcast nationally. Following a merger between the East Coast-based Television Academy and the West Coast-based Television Academy, the newly formed National Television Academy sold the broadcasting right to NBC. Viewers all over the country could now watch the show in real-time.
[Pictured: Television hosts Art Linkletter and Ralph Edwards]
In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was honored with the first Governor’s Award in recognition of his use and encouragement of television. Today, the Governor’s Award is given to an individual, company, organization, or project for outstanding achievement in one aspect of TV. The award can be given on a cumulative basis (as President Eisenhower’s was), or for a single extraordinary act.
[Pictured: The cast of "Caesar's Hour"]
In the last year of its run, sketch comedy show “Caesar’s Hour” made Emmy history by winning awards in all four major acting categories. The first show to do so, Sid Caesar, Nanette Fabray, Carl Reiner, and Pat Carroll all took home statuettes for their performances as various characters. In addition, “Caesar’s Hour” won Best Series, One Hour or More.2018 All rights reserved.