There we were, on stage at the Dolby Theater. Just steps away from where It Happened.
You know what I’m talking about. The event that changed the course of Oscar history. The act that consumed all of our lives for what seems like weeks on end after the ceremony ended. Hell, do you even remember what won for best picture? (It was “CODA.” Yeah, that was this year.)
The Paley Center for Media’s annual Paley Fest event, a fan-centric celebration of some of the hottest shows on television, took over the Dolby for a week starting April 2, just days after The Slap that transpired in that same venue. It was the first in-person Paley Fest in two years, after the COVID-19 pandemic put such gatherings on hold in 2020.
I’ve been a big fan of the Paley Fest going back to when the Paley Center was known as the Museum of TV & Radio. In the 1990s, the annual event focused on reunions of classic TV show casts, but in recent years, it’s become more of a Comic-Con style gathering of current series. I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a moderator for countless panels over the years — most memorably, I won a staring contest with Jon Hamm (sorry Jon, I have the proof on tape) during an event for “Mad Men.”
This year, I was asked to moderate two of my current faves: AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and HBO Max’s “Hacks.” It was during the “Hacks” panel that I felt we had to address that Slap-ephant in the room. The moment that Will Smith got up out of his seat, unexpectedly raised his hand against Oscars presenter Chris Rock, shouting profanities and leading to weeks of hand-wringing, debate, repercussions, and really terrible hot takes.
And it all went down in the same spot that I was now grilling Jean Smart about Season 2 of her hit comedy. I couldn’t resist pointing it out to Smart and her “Hacks” executive producers.
“You know, it happened right there,” I said, pointing to the stage floor in front of us. “Just days ago. Right there.” Nervous snickers from the panel. They soon realized what I was referring to.
A little back story, for anyone who didn’t binge Season 1 of “Hacks.” (And shame on you, by the way. Show some respect to National Treasure Jean Smart!) At the end of the season, during a tense moment between the show’s two leads, young writer Ava (played by Hannah Einbinder) dismisses legendary comedian Deborah Vance (played by Smart) as a “hack.” And then Deborah slaps her. Hard. The kind of slap that would have made “Dynasty’s” Alexis and Krystle proud.
Unlike the scene at the Oscars, there was a point to that “Hacks” aggression. It moved the show’s narrative forward. Smarting from the hit, Ava sends a nasty email to a group of sitcom writers eager to turn some of Deborah’s secrets into a script. It’s an email that will haunt Ava as Season 2 begins.
“When it comes to TV slaps, you did it better,” I told Jean Smart on stage. At that point, everyone on stage and in the audience got it — and then came the release of laughter.
It was almost as if we could finally move on from that awful Oscar moment. Sure, the film awards season ended on a sour note. But that was then, and TV is now.
Up on that “Hacks” panel we hopefully exorcised the demons out of the Dolby. Now it’s time for an awards season reset — and wow, are we in for a ride this year. This Emmy season features a competitive lineup of new shows, returning shows, buzzy shows and critically acclaimed shows. So many shows!
In other words, as the kids might say, this year’s roster of Emmy contenders… slaps. (Too soon?)