TV legends Norman Lear and Rob Reiner do Nixon and Haldeman

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.–TV’s top stars and showrunners turn up year after year at the Television Critics Association Awards–and they don’t come for the hardware.
It happened again Saturday as one A-lister after another took the stage at the Beverly Hilton ballroom to accept whats Louis C.K. dismissed as a “shitty” plastic trophy.
There’s a low-key intimacy to the TCA Awards that Hollywood clearly appreciates. Everything is relaxed and casual. There are no recorders shoved into faces. It’s just a room full of people who love television, giving smart speeches to an appreciative audience.
Among those who turned up Saturday: Norman Lear and Rob Reiner (accepting the critics’ Heritage award for All in the Family), Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston (here for Program of the Year honours for Breaking Bad), Louis C.K., Amy Poehler, Chuck Lorre (Louie took Individual Achievement in Comedy, with Parks & Recreation tying Big Bang Theory for Best Comedy), Mark Burnett, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec (Shark Tank took top Reality Show honours) and Keri Russell and Graham Yost (accepting for Best New Program, The Americans).
One big winner from Canada wasn’t in the room: Tatiana Maslany took the Individual Achievement in Drama award for her outstanding performances in the Toronto-lensed Space drama Orphan Black. She sent thanks via a video shout out. Maslany, originally from Saskatchewan, beat out Cranston, Vera Farminga (Bates Motel), Monica Potter (Parenthood) and Matthew Rjys (The Americans) for the Drama prize.
Next winner C.K. took  one look at his cheap plastic award and goofed on Maslany, saying, “I don’t blame that bitch for not coming either.”

Hilarious hosts Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

Getting the show off on a very funny foot were Comedy Central duo Key & Peele, who killed with one of their trademark bits: President.Obama and Luther, his anger translator. The former Mad TV stars did their homework, cleverly weaving moments from the last week-and-a-half of press tour into their routine. For example, they mentioned how Al Jazeera ditched us last week  “They pulled out at the last possible second, which is more than I can say about Simon Cowell.”
That crack had Poehler on the floor.
By far the emotional high point of the night was the All in the Family salute. Lear is 91 and still seems nimble of mind and foot. It was a thrill to shake his hand and tell him I grew up with his shows. “I did too,” he said, probably for the umpteenth time.

Louie with his shitty plastic TCA Award, which he compared to a bar menu

The two took the podium and did a bit, reading an actual transcript fro the just released White House recordings of Richard Nixon, with Reiner as the president and Lear doing White House stooges Haldeman and Ehrlichman. The actual exchange was about Nixon’s dislike of an All in the Family episode which made Nixon uneasy by showcasing, in his words, “homos.”
Lear sprung the idea on Reiner on their way to the hotel.
Reiner apologized for not having a Nixon impression, offering instead to do Lee J. Cobb from Twelve Angry Men. He nailed it.
I told him later the shtick with Lear was like watching Morton & Hayes in their prime. Reiner says producing that forgotten TV gem from the early ’90s–about discovering lost reels of film shorts from an early “talkie” comedy team–was his favourite TV experience ever.

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