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The 50th Annual Emmy Awards

If you knew Emmys like we knew Emmys

Web posted on: Friday, September 04, 1998 5:12:54 PM EDT

(CNN) -- For those who can't get enough of television's Emmy Awards, we're offering an insider's guide to the history of the ceremony -- from the first Emmy ever handed out, to the reason why they're called Emmys, to memorable moments by some of TV's legendary performers.

So if you're holding or attending an Emmy party, commit the following facts to memory and impress your friends with your knowledge of television's most prestigious night.

Memorable moments

The first six Emmys were awarded January 25, 1949, and the very first went to 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale, a Los Angeles ventriloquist, for being the Most Outstanding Television Personality.

During the 1980 actors' strike, Powers Booth was the only winner who showed up to receive his Emmy. Said he: "This is either the most courageous moment of my career, or the stupidest."

In 1964, Shelley Winters thanked "the whole motion picture academy."

One month after he refused to accept his Oscar for "Patton" in 1971, George C. Scott accepted his Emmy for his role in Arthur Miller's "The Price" on "Hallmark Hall of Fame."

After winning an Emmy in 1974, Lily Tomlin said: "This is not the greatest moment in my life because on Friday I had a really great baked potato at Niblick's on Wilshire."

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin thanked "Laurel and Hardy and all the others we've stolen things from."

"Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels thanked New York City "for providing the rejection and alienation that keeps the comedy spirit alive."

In 1951, Red Skelton accepted the Best Comedian award by saying, "I think this should have gone to Lucille Ball."

In 1950, when Groucho Marx accepted the honor of TV's Most Outstanding Personality, he picked up Miss Emmy, the former Miss America Rosemary LaPlanche, and carried her off the stage, leaving his statue behind.

No kidding?

The original Academy of Television Arts and Sciences was founded in 1946 by Syd Cassyd, a reporter for a TV trade magazine in Los Angeles and a grip on Paramount's back lot.

The Emmys originally were to be called "Ikes," a short form for the television iconoscrope tube, but there was concern they would be linked to Dwight D. Eisenhower. So instead, Harry Lubcke of the Society of Television Engineers came up with "a feminization" of "Immy," a term used for the early image orthicon camera tube.

Dorothy McManus was the model for her husband, Louis McManus, as he designed the winged "golden girl" holding up the universal symbol of the electron, which would become the Emmy Award statue. He received a plaque from the Academy at the first awards ceremony.

When the Emmys were first broadcast in 1949, there were 1 million TV sets in the United States. By the national broadcast of 1955, there were 25 million.

AT&T was nominated for an engineering Emmy -- but lost in 1951 -- for the transcontinental microwave relay system that made possible live coast-to-coast television broadcasts.

The Emmys have been televised every year except 1954, but they were shown for the first time on a national broadcast in 1955. And the January 16, 1957, Emmy awards ceremony was the first to be telecast in color.

TV rift

Ed Sullivan and New York's TV elite forced the establishment of a separate bicoastal group, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1957.

From 1955 to 1971, the Emmys were "simulcast" from both New York and Los Angeles to quell jealousies between rival cities, frequently resulting in screeens going blank for up to a minute. It was a costly arrangement; NBC paid $110,000 for the first transcontinental hookup.

In 1977, after suits and countersuits, the bi-coastal academies finally agreed to work together. The NATAS, based in New York, manages daytime, sports, news and documentary, international and local awards. The newer Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, located in California, bestows prime-time prizes.

The number of categories for Emmys has fluctuated wildly over the years, from six the first year to more than 40 in many seasons. Even the wording changes, fluctuating from "best" to "outstanding." Once there was a separate category for Westerns, but those "Gunsmoke"-"Maverick" days are gone -- at least for now.

Cable TV progrmming was not allowed to participate in the prime-time competition until 1987.

Emmy miscellany

Jackie Gleason never won an Emmy, but his pal Art Carney won five for "The Honeymooners."

Deadpanner Ed Sullivan, who caused the bicoastal split in the academy in June 1955, smiled when his show received the Best Variety Series award that year. He never won a personal Emmy in voter competition, but was given a Trustees Award in 1971.

Rod Serling won his third successive writing award in 1957 for "The Comedian," about the struggles of a burlesque king adjusting to TV. The award for the story, obviously based on Milton Berle's life, was presented by Berle.

Robert Young received two awards for best acting for "Father Knows Best" in the 1950s and a third in 1970 for "Marcus Welby, M.D."

The Emmys ceremony for the 1958-59 season is remembered for the notorious "Astaire Affair," when the dancer's first television special, "An Evening with Fred Astaire," won all nine of the awards for which it was nominated, thus establishing an Emmy record. Ed Sullivan asked that the ballots be impounded.

"Huckleberry Hound" was the first syndicated program and the first cartoon series to take home an Emmy, which it did in the 1959-60 season.

Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Macbeth," a $750,000 production filmed on location in Scotland and broadcast as a two-hour color presentation, is considered by many television historians to be the first made-for-TV movie. It received five Emmys at the 1961 ceremony, including one in the rare category, Program of the Year.

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