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Emmys Director Louis J. Horvitz Recalls Awards-Show Hits and Misses

The 19-time nominee has won several Emmys on shows while he’s directing

A version of this story appeared in the “Down to the Wire” issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Lots of people have won Emmys, but you can count on one hand the number who’ve had the surreal experience of cuing their own acceptance speech. Glenn Weiss did it last year when he directed the show on which he won an Emmy for directing the Tonys — and this year’s Emmy director, Louis J. Horvitz, has done it five times, winning the majority of his seven Emmys (five for the Oscars, two for the Kennedy Center Honors) while sitting in the show’s control room overseeing the live telecast.

“The idea of leaving the booth, waiting in the wings and having to prepare to go out in front of the whole audience would take me out of my rhythm,” Horvitz told TheWrap during preparations for this year’s show, his 14th time directing the Primetime Emmys. (He’s also done the Daytime Emmys three times.) “So I brought the camera into the truck.”

And it wouldn’t be until couple of days before the show, he added, that he’d start thinking about an acceptance speech. “This show is so intense, with so many awards, that I’d be focused on that,” he said. “And then my wife would go, ‘Have you written a speech in case you win?’ So I’d go to that page in my script, and on the back of the page I’d write down a few names to thank.”

Accepting an Emmy while directing, he said, is “intense, and the countdown clock is going and I know they’re going to play me off. But it’s always a lot of fun to do that from the booth.”

Horvitz is nominated again this year for the Kennedy Center Honors, his 19th nomination. This time his category will be handed out at the Creative Arts Emmys two weeks before the primetime show, so he won’t have to worry about orchestrating his own win (or loss).

But he and producer Don Mischer will have plenty of other concerns, and Horvitz will no doubt add a few new stories to a bio that already includes the 2001 Emmy show delayed twice by the aftermath of 9/11 and the 1999 Daytime Emmys at which Susan Lucci won her first award after 18 consecutive losses. His career also includes 12 Academy Awards shows, six Grammys and 22 Kennedy Center Honors.

“At the Oscars, you only have four acting awards,” Horvitz said of the particular challenges of the Emmys. “Directors and writers in film are better known than they are on TV. The difference is more cutaways, more zones to cover in the audience and more work trying to tell the story of the night.

“I also think people recognize more television stars and more television shows than they do motion pictures — and there are lots more shows and more stars to cover, so it’s hard to show everybody without doing lots of group shots.”

Horvitz’s most memorable Emmy moments include the run-through he did in 2001 for the Emmy telecast that had been pushed back a month in the wake of 9/11. “We did a dress rehearsal with Ellen DeGeneres out here and James Gandolfini and the cast of ‘The Sopranos’ in New York,” he said. “It was a bicoastal show that was really going to be speaking to the moment, trying to find the right disposition for the gravity of the circumstances.

“And at the end of the dress rehearsal Don whispered in my ear, ‘We’re not going on the air tonight.’ The war in Afghanistan had just started, and we had to postpone the show again. Don had to leave because he was already a week late for the Olympics [opening ceremony], so Gary Smith stepped in and we finally got a show on the air.”

He paused. “I’ve often wondered where that dress rehearsal tape is. That’s a piece of footage to get.”

He admits to occasionally sitting in the control truck knowing that the show isn’t working — the opening of the 2008 show hosted by five reality-show hosts, he admits, was particularly painful. “I was thinking, ‘This is shit,'” he said with a laugh. “And then there are moments like the Golden Globes, where Jacqueline Bisset wins and goes off … on some journey.”

More satisfying are shows like the Emmys on which Lucci finally won, although that one got him a rebuke from the daytime diva. “It was a great moment, and I said to Al [Schwartz, the producer], ‘Al, don’t play her off – I’m sure she’s got a lot to say.’

“And ironically, that was a period when I was always getting nominated and never winning. When I finally won again, I said, ‘I was beginning to feel like Susan Lucci.’ She called me the next day and said, ‘Darling, you’re a real dog. You only had five years of losing. I had 18.'”

As the Emmys approach, Horvitz knows that for all his meticulous preparation, on Sept. 20 he’ll be at the mercy of what one of his mentors, longtime Academy Awards producer Gil Cates, called “the Oscar gods.” “The moments that people remember have to do with what wins,” he said, “so it really depends on who they voted for.”

But until the Emmy gods speak, Horvitz figures he has a shot at some memorable moments, and a shot at a show that reflects a moment in time and a rich TV landscape. “There’s so much quality television being done in lots of different places,” he said. “I think we’re going to hear winners talking about how they didn’t get picked up by certain networks that will remain nameless, but they got picked up by Amazon Prime, by Netflix, by Spike, by USA Cable, by AMC….

“And shows like ‘Transparent’ are beyond political–they shed light on our lives. That’s what I expect to be looking for in my cutaways, how television once again mirrors our society.”

See more of TheWrap Magazine’s Emmy “Down to the Wire” Issue:

Andy Samberg Wrap cover