From Classic Television Reunions to Elton’s EGOT, Nostalgia Was the Order of the Day at the 75th Emmy Awards

Emmy Awards

Sir Elton John poses during the 2021 BRIT Awards at London's O2 Arena on May 11, 2021. While a recent knee surgery prevented John from attending the 75th Emmy Awards on Monday, he still managed to achieve a historic feat by becoming a rare EGOT winner on the show. Photo: JMEnternational / JMEnternational for BRIT Awards/Getty Images

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, on a show touted as celebrating 75 years of television, nostalgia was the order of the night at the 75th Emmy Awards. But on the spectrum of award shows that drag late into the night (we see you, Oscars), the nostalgic reminders of old TV favourites and beloved performers proved both a comforting and mollifying theme.  

In terms of nostalgia and winning, music legend Elton John isn’t a name you’d naturally associate with the Emmys. But the 76-year-old took home the award for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) for Elton John Live: Farewell From Dodgers Stadium – completing a triumphant career arc both with the callback to his iconic 1975 Dodger Stadium concerts, and the fact that the win made him only the 19th competitive EGOT winner in history.

(For those who don’t know, the EGOT stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony; other EGOT winners include Mel Brooks, Rita Moreno, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Whoopi Goldberg. Non-competitive EGOT winners – those who achieved one or more of the four awards as an honorary or special award, such as an honorary Oscar – include Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte and Liza Minnelli.)     

John wasn’t in attendance (he recently underwent knee surgery) but his win capped an evening that featured tributes to television classics – including recreations of the physical sets of some – from All in the Family (which reunited Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers) to the casts of Martin, Cheers, Ally McBeal, The Sopranos and more. Natasha Lyonne and Tracee Ellis Ross re-enacted the classic chocolate conveyor belt scene in an I Love Lucy tribute, and Arsenio Hall returned to wax nostalgic about growing up idolizing Johnny Carson. 

Niecy Nash-Betts, meanwhile, had what might have been the best acceptance speech of the night. The 53-year-old won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for playing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbour Glenda Cleveland, who repeatedly reported strange behaviour from the killer’s home to the police but was ignored, in Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

“I accept this award on behalf of every Black and brown woman who has gone unheard yet over-policed, like Glenda Cleveland. Like Sandra Bland. Like Breonna Taylor. As an artist, my job is to speak truth to power, and baby, Imma do it til the day I die,” she declared on stage. She also gave thanks to various people involved in the series before offering a little self-love that set an example for everyone to learn from.

“And you know who I wanna thank? I wanna thank me. For believing in me, and doing what they said I could not do. And I wanna say to myself in front of all you beautiful people: go on, girl, with your bad self. You did that.”

As well, TV legends like Carol Burnett, 90, Marla Gibbs, 92 and Joan Collins, 90, made appearances to hand out awards. “I got to work 20 more years before I retire,” Gibbs quipped onstage, “but if you great writers write something for me I’ll just keep on working and cut into that wage gap. Black don’t crack, baby. It’s never too late.”

Speaking of working, host Anthony Anderson put his mom, Doris Hancox, to work – an intergenerational combo of an MC and a human stand-in for wrap-up music, sitting in the audience and calling out winners whose speeches went on too long. 

One of the big winners on the night, meanwhile, was Succession, the intergenerational drama that nabbed six awards including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Matthew Macfadyen, 49), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Kieran Culkin, 41) and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Sarah Snook, 36). 

Macfadyen gave us a nostalgic tinge for the old “Tomlette and Gregs / Disgusting Brothers” duo when he offered a shout out to his “other on screen wife,” Nicholas Braun, who played cousin Greg on the show, during his acceptance speech.

And unlike on Succession, the Roy kids won in the end, with actor Brian Cox, 77, who played family patriarch Logan Roy, in attendance to cheer on his TV children in their victories. 

Sadly Cox himself never won an Emmy for his role as Logan Roy, despite three nominations – including nabbing one this year even though (spoiler alert) his character unexpectedly died in the third episode of the final season.  

On the other hand, the idea of Cox channeling the profanity-spewing patriarch as he gets called out by Anderson’s mom, Hancox, for going too long, and triggering a stand-off for the ages between the two while causing the network’s censor button to overheat, is a terrifying one.