Emmys Axed Obama Cameo, Long Before Sean Spicer Appearance (Exclusive)

Insider says a guest spot by the then-president was deemed too “political”

Last Updated: September 20, 2017 @ 6:34 AM

People on the left and right alike criticized all the politics at this year’s Emmy Awards. But TheWrap has learned exclusively that in 2013, the show skirted politics by cutting at the last minute a sketch that would have included President Obama.

Democrats accused this year’s ceremony of “normalizing” ex-White House spokesman Sean Spicer by giving him a splashy cameo in the show’s opening number. Republicans objected to the many jabs at President Trump by host Stephen Colbert and others.

But an Obama team insider says Spicer’s cameo “reeks of hypocrisy,” because the academy indicated four years ago it was “solely focused on TV and doesn’t address politics or politicians.”

“Obama was political, but Spicer is not?” said the insider, who was involved in writing the skit and spoke out on condition of anonymity. “This whole thing reeks of hypocrisy.”

Others involved in the production — including Ken Ehrlich, producer of the 2013 show, confirmed the Obama was skit was cut, but denied the decision was political.

The insider said the skit was aimed at raising awareness about the Affordable Care Act’s upcoming open enrollment. It was supposed to feature famous TV presidents, including “Scandal” star Tony Goldwyn, and “Saturday Night Live” Obama impersonator Jay Pharoah. (Martin Sheen, who portrayed President Josiah Bartlet on NBC’s “The West Wing,” had a scheduling conflict.)

The sketch, as described by the insider, was supposed to begin with Pharoah and Goldwyn behind the president’s Resolute Desk, whining about how hard it is to be president. Then the real president would have appeared on video, made fun of them, and reminded Americans to sign up for the ACA’s healthcare plan, also known as Obamacare. (Update: Politico posted the script after the publication of this article.)

“It was not a political skit at all,” the insider said. “It was more of a ‘wear-your-seat-belt’-type PSA poking fun at the ubiquity of the message coming from the White House at the time… It was all signed. The actors had all agreed and even received their scripts.”

But the idea was nixed, the insider said, by the then-chairman of the Television Academy, Bruce Rosenblum, who has since become the business-operations president for Disney/ABC Television Group. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The most senior members of the academy’s TV committee, including Mr. Rosenblum, made it clear that it was not going to happen because of political reasons. Period,” the Obama insider said.

Ehrlich told TheWrap he vaguely remembered the skit, but didn’t think the cancellation was political.

“I don’t believe it was nixed by the TV Academy, but rather because it didn’t come together the way we had hoped it would,” he said.

The academy declined to comment. So did reps for Goldwyn. A rep for Pharoah did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Another person involved in the production, who also asked not to be named, told TheWrap: “We went into the show heavy, it went really long, things had to get cut… Some things that were really good ideas didn’t make it.”

The Obama insider also told TheWrap that the president’s team was “disappointed” when they heard the project was cancelled, as it had already taken several hours of their time.

“If they didn’t put the president on, then they shouldn’t have put Spicer on. And that’s the bottom line,” the insider said.

Though the Emmys passed on Obama, the Oscars have a long history of White House guests.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the 13th Academy Awards in a six-minute radio speech transmitted by radio from the White House.

President Ronald Reagan taped a video address for the 53rd Academy Awards in 1981.

First Lady Laura Bush appeared in a taped segment in 2002. (So did Donald Trump — 14 years before he became president. Trump recalled his moviegoing experience “seeing King Kong try and conquer New York.” Bush talked about the 1956 film “Giant.”)

First Lady Michelle Obama presented the Oscar for Best Picture, with military service personnel behind her, in 2013. And last year, Vice President Joe Biden urged viewers to “take the pledge” to end campus sexual assault on college campuses.