15 Star-Studded Facts About the Emmy Awards

Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images

Anything can happen at the Emmys: Impromptu make-outs. Presenter fraud. Near-death experiences for Bob Newhart. Before the 2018 broadcast begins on Monday, September 17, read up on the weirdest and most fascinating facts from the award ceremony’s 70-year history. Sure, hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost are likely to bring the comedy heat (with a side of politics), but can even their dual host power match the insanity of the 1974 Super Emmys?

1. THE WORD “EMMY” COMES FROM A CAMERA TUBE.

When the Television Academy was brainstorming a name for its new awards back in the late 1940s, founder Syd Cassyd first suggested “Ike,” a.k.a. the nickname for a television iconoscope tube. But the other members worried that that term was too closely linked to World War II hero (and future POTUS) Dwight Eisenhower, and therefore might seem too political. So instead, Henry Lubcke (who would go on to become the Academy's third president) floated “Immy.” It would reference another piece of TV tech, the image-orthicon tube. The rest of the team decided to feminize it into “Emmy,” so that it matched the statuette they had selected. That statuette, which resembles the one you know today, included a winged woman holding an atom. And it was based on a real person. (Keep reading ...)

2. DOROTHY MCMANUS WAS THE MODEL FOR THE STATUETTE.

Cassyd and his friends considered 47 design proposals for their award statuette, and promptly rejected all of them. But the 48th time was the charm. Television engineer Louis McManus’s design of a woman with wings (representing the arts) holding an atom (representing science) was the last one the team reviewed, but it turned out to be the winning pitch. McManus had modeled the woman on his wife, Dorothy—leading at least one art curator to wonder why the awards weren’t called “Dorothies.”

3. ONLY SIX AWARDS WERE HANDED OUT AT THE FIRST CEREMONY, AND ONE WENT TO A VENTRILOQUIST.

The very first Emmy Awards ceremony was held on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Unlike the current iteration, it was a fairly cheap affair (tickets cost just $5) and the run time was a lot shorter. Only six awards were handed out that evening. The first one, for Most Outstanding Television Personality, went to 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale and her puppet, Judy Splinters, for The Judy Splinters Show. Other winners included a program called Pantomime Quiz and Louis McManus, who got a special Emmy for designing the thing.

4. “BEST CONTINUING PERFORMANCE IN A SERIES BY A PERSON WHO ESSENTIALLY PLAYS HERSELF” USED TO BE A CATEGORY.

In the early years of the awards, the Emmys tested out a number of categories, some of them more logical than others. By far the most nonsensical pair came in 1958, when the Television Academy decided to honor the “Best Continuing Performance in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or Any Person Who Essentially Plays Herself” along with a corresponding male category. Rumor has it the categories were mostly designed to honor Lucille Ball for I Love Lucy, but if that was the intention, it failed miserably. Dinah Shore won instead for The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, while Jack Benny took the male category for The Jack Benny Show. These categories were seemingly axed by 1959, much to the relief of tongue-tied presenters.

5. JACKIE KENNEDY IS THE ONLY FIRST LADY TO WIN AN EMMY.

To date, only one First Lady of the United States has won an Emmy. That distinction goes to Jackie Kennedy, who received a special Trustees Award for her famous televised tour of the White House in 1962. (Lady Bird Johnson accepted the statuette on Kennedy's behalf.) No First Lady has matched her Emmy count since, although Michelle Obama came somewhat close: She received Emmy attention when her Billy on the Street segment earned a 2015 nomination. Alas, it lost to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

6. THE “SUPER EMMYS” WERE A HUGE FLOP.

In 1974, the Emmys decided to get experimental with a so-called “Super Emmy” ceremony. The show pitted the winning performers from the drama and comedy categories against each other—think Best Lead Actor in a Drama vs. Best Lead Actor in a Comedy, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama vs. Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, etc. The ultimate champions would be crowned the actor or actress “of the year” in their respective categories, and the big winners included Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, and Cecily Tyson. The next day, The New York Times wrote that the broadcast was "more confusing than ever" and that "the new 'super awards' are pointless"; things went back to normal for the next year's ceremony.

7. ALAN ALDA CARTWHEELED DOWN THE AISLE FOR HIS 1979 WIN.

Speaking of Alan Alda: He made a bigger splash at the Emmys just five years later. During the 1979 ceremony, he picked up a prize for his writing on M*A*S*H. Although he’d previously won acting and directing awards for the show, he’d never been recognized for his writing before—and he was excited. So he cartwheeled down the aisle in what is now an iconic Emmy moment.

“The writing one meant so much," Alda later told Variety. "I wanted to be a writer and a good writer since I was eight years old. To get an Emmy for writing meant so much that that was really spontaneous when I did the cartwheel on the way to the stage … I’m 80 now, but a couple of months after my 80th birthday, I was on the beach in the Virgin Islands and I said, ‘I’m gonna see if I can still do a cartwheel.'"

8. SOMEONE NEARLY STOLE BETTY THOMAS’S EMMY—ON STAGE.

When Betty Thomas won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Hill Street Blues in 1985, a man came up to accept the Emmy on her behalf. This was strange for two reasons: Thomas was actually in the audience, and she had no idea who this guy was. The mystery man turned out to be Barry Bremen, a.k.a. “The Great Imposter.” He was known to pull similar pranks at large sporting events, including the Super Bowl. The Emmys were just his latest target, and it cost him; he walked away from that stunt with a $175 fine and six months' probation.

9. CABLE SHOWS WEREN’T ELIGIBLE FOR EMMY AWARDS UNTIL 1988.

Up until the late 1980s, only network shows were eligible for Emmy consideration. Cable series competed for prizes at their own awards show, the CableACE Awards. But the Emmys modified their rules in 1988 to allow cable programming in. The last CableACE Awards ceremony took place in 1997.

10. LORNE MICHAELS IS THE MOST EMMY-NOMINATED PERSON OF ALL TIME.


Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for TheWrap

The most Emmy-nominated individual of all time is Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, with a whopping total of 87 nominations. He'll compete this year for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series for SNL, and he'll also executive produce the Emmy Awards ceremony itself.

But when it comes to actual wins, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins has got Michaels beat; she has collected a total of 31 Emmy Awards over the years (more than twice Michaels's 15 wins), including the 2018 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special for The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

11. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS THE MOST CELEBRATED SERIES.

Over its 43-year history, Saturday Night Live has racked up a total of 252 nominations and 62 wins (and counting). That makes it the most nominated show in Emmy history.

12. THE TELEVISION ACADEMY REALLY LOVES COPS.

If you’re serious about winning that statuette, it’s best to pick up a badge and a gun. In 2015, Rolling Stone crunched the numbers and discovered that characters in law enforcement receive the most Emmy love. It adds up when you look at past acting winners: Dennis Franz picked up four for his run on NYPD Blue, Tony Shalhoub won three for Monk, and Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless collectively earned six as the stars of Cagney & Lacey.

13. SOME WINNERS HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR STATUETTES.

No, Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t have to fork over cash for her Emmy backstage. But for categories where the winners can include 15 to 20 people (think writing teams), the Television Academy imposes some fees. In the interview above, Mo Rocca recounted how he paid for his own Emmy as part of The Daily Show writing staff.

14. IT COSTS $400 AND TAKES OVER FIVE HOURS TO MAKE ONE EMMY.

Charging winners to collect their prize might seem outrageous, but then again, an Emmy isn’t cheap. Each statuette costs about $400 and requires five-and-a-half hours of labor to create. They’re all made at Chicago's R.S. Owens, where employees mold and then coat the figures in copper, nickel, silver, and gold. Watch them in action above.

15. THE EMMYS OVERCAME A DIVERSITY HURDLE IN 2015.

When Isabel Sanford won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for The Jeffersons in 1981, she was the first black woman to receive that honor. The corresponding drama category remained all-white for over six decades, until 2015. Two years ago, Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for How to Get Away With Murder. She used her acceptance speech to talk about race and opportunity, provoking tears from several audience members and wild applause from her fellow nominee, Taraji P. Henson. (Davis is nominated again this year for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for a spot she did on Scandal.)

This year will bring even more diversity to the category, as Sandra Oh is the first Asian actor to compete for the coveted Lead Actress in a Drama statuette for her role in Killing Eve.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2016.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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