The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards is sure to be filled with plenty of buzzy moments, but one hot topic is already the talk of the town. In a conference call with the media, Primetime Emmys executive producer Ken Ehrlich and CBS executive Jack Sussman answered questions about this year's telecast, giving behind-the-scenes insight into what promises to be an extra special night with the stars. But the questioning kept coming back to the producers' unique decision regarding the show's popular "In Memoriam" tribute.
While Ehrlich promised that the Emmys will continue with the traditional "In Memoriam" segment that viewers have grown accustomed to, this year producers made the controversial choice to select five media standouts to recognize in a special way.
Jonathan Winters, James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, Gary David Goldberg, and Cory Monteith will be remembered via tributes from their TV co-stars and close friends (that would be Robin Williams, Edie Falco, Rob Reiner, Michael J. Fox, and Jane Lynch, respectively). And Ehrlich admits he knew the decision would create controversy.
"It's an extension of the "In Memoriam" piece we've done for years. ... No matter what we do, there will be people who feel we had other options and could have done other things," he said. "There was a limit to what we could do. … In all candor, this becomes a producer's option. And in this case, we selected these five knowing certainly others could be treated this way. But these were the five we chose."
[Photos: Cory Monteith on 'Glee' Gallery]
The choice of Monteith (the "Glee" star was only 31 when he died last summer) over late TV legends like Jack Klugman and Larry Hagman was one that Ehrlich had no trouble defending.
"Cory's appeal is to a different generation," he said. "At 31, he passed away under very different circumstances. It was important to be responsible to the younger viewers to whom Cory meant perhaps as much as these other individuals meant to their own generations."
Speaking of tributes, this year's Emmys will also feature a tribute to "Behind the Candelabra" subject Liberace, as well as what Ehrlich called a "tent pole" moment of the show that will touch on two big events that occurred 50 years ago: the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Beatles landmark appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
"Much more than a TV event, it was the first time the country mourned collectively on the death of president," Ehrlich said, before noting that two months later the Beatles American TV debut was "to a real extent, the beginning of a time we were able to celebrate … two incredible events that tied us together because of TV."
But don't be scared off by what sounds like a somber tone to this year's Emmys theme. "I don't want to overemphasize these pieces we've talked about," Ehrlich said. "An awards show, like television, needs to have a balance."
To help balance things out, spunky singer Carrie Underwood will be part of the segment, and Sussman promised: "She's going to be singing Beatles music."
So with all of these extra segments, is there a chance the show might go on … and on and on? Awards shows have a history of running overtime, but Sussman thinks this year's Emmys can definitely stick to the three-hour time limit.
"We will ask people to be sincere and concise," he said. ‘"Our job is to keep the show moving."
The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards will air live from the Nokia Theatre LA Live on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on CBS.