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Report from the Emmys Pleasure Dome

September 13, 2009 |  4:13 pm


The theme of this year's Governors Ball, held after the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Creative Arts Primetime Emmys on Sept. 20 is "Let There Be Color," with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" ("In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree") as inspiration. And as I wind my way through traffic on Thursday on my way to the cavernous depths of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the ball will be held, I can't help thinking about the names this theme evokes in me. I'm thinking Kenneth Anger, Orson Welles and Olivia Newton-John.

As it stands, the Anger comparison is perhaps the most apt, at least visually -- the entirety of the center's West Hall A has been steeped in a sort of candy-colored homage to MGM's "Arabian Nights" pictures, with a touch of Vegas VIP rooms for flavor. The color scheme can be best described as Decor by Life-Savers - everywhere is lime, orange, grape and tropical punch (or blue-raspberry - I'm a little colorblind). Two thousand yards of Fortuny-style patterned silk are tented above my head and those of the media streaming through the cavernous room, while 48 oversized hanging lanterns dangle like jellyfish from the ceilings.

At the center of the room, a colossal rotating dais is buttressed on every side by overstuffed purple love seats, and atop it, a pianist works through 1960s-cool renditions of "Nature Boy" and "Quiet Nights (Corcovado)." The walls are steeped in black with twinkling lights to approximate stars, while at opposite corners, seeming miles away, are lounges, stocked with a flotilla of glasses, and lighted to create the right degree of anonymity mixed with "Hey, is that who I think it is?" One half expects Cornel Wilde to knife-ride down one of the silk drapings (much to the chagrin of the workers who made them, no doubt), tumble artfully to the floor, and then perhaps do the Hustle.

Sequoia Productions is the company behind this overwhelming sight, much as they have done for the last 12 Governors Balls, and they have spared no quarter in regard to upholding the pleasure dome principle. Black-bedecked servers whisk past my startled eyes bearing the fruits of the events' sponsors -- spirits by Grey Goose, wines by Beaulieu Vineyard, food by the Patina Restaurant Group, and even chocolates by Dove, including the Fling, a chocolate bar offered by a gentleman in a white Willy Wonka suit and top hat with the words, "Would you like to have a Fling?" For the record, I did, and it has 9% of your daily vitamins, so you might want to consider it.

Grey Goose has concocted a specialty drink for the Emmys called, appropriately, an Emmy. I foolishly grab one and down it to wash away the afternoon thirst. The drink, part Grey Goose L'Orange flavored vodka, part Licor 43, and part orange juice and grenadine, goes down like a lovely drink for very stylish children before erupting like Fat Man and Little Boy in my empty stomach.

"Isn't that yummy?" murmurs the waitress. "Yes," I slur, instantly embalmed, and looking for the gent with the Flings. Note to Emmy guests -- snack first before tossing back a few of these. Or don't be such a lightweight like me.

I stagger through the hall, attempting to eyeball the particulars of each table and the surrounding decor while not colliding with any of the furniture (not very successful at this last part). According to the "Fun Facts" sheet in my media kit, the 3,500 guests attending the Governors Ball will dine at 3,500 place settings marked by 10,000 pieces of china. If they survive the Emmy, they'll drink from 2,500 Champagne flutes filled to overflowing by 1,200 on-site staff members, or knock back 2,460 bottles of Beaulieu wine. Vying for the attention of each guest will be floral creations by LA Premier Floral Event Design using 9,000 orchids and 20,000 roses, as well as a small army of branches and peacock feathers. I stop to eyeball one of these set pieces -- it seems to be a complex being, sentient and complex in its makeup. One imagines that, if cornered, it would assess the threat and react accordingly.

For some reason, I think I should take a look at the napkins -- they'll want to know at The Times, I blather to myself -- and they are possibly the finest I've ever felt, like baby's skin (my own 6-week-old baby doesn't feel as smooth). They fold artfully, one supposes, and if you were skilled enough to make an airplane with them, it would immediately form a Lear jet. The colors of the napkins, should you be curious, are cerulean, royal plum, zanzibar, cerise and lime. One of those, I'm pretty sure, refers to a whale.

The evening's menu is laid out at one table - Patina has been creating dishes for the Emmys for 14 years, and the theme of the 2009 selection is "Flavors of the Farmers Market." This does not refer to that Brazilian place at the Grove with the endless lines, but rather, an emphasis on freshness and simplicity. Sweet peppers, eggplant caviar, a multicolored potato salad, and toy box tomatoes are the opener; I have never heard of toy box tomatoes, but I later learn that several thousand of them will be offered up to guests. I attempt to calculate if this is enough toy box tomatoes to reach the moon, but the main course filet mignon and polenta ravioli distracts my nincompoop mathematics. Dessert is a Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, which resembles a large plum dipped in heaven, and paired with a mint lollipop. Photographers crowd around the table and fire off rounds of pictures. I am aware of the fact that this meal is being treated with the same level of coverage as the celebrities at the events.

The cascade of popular hits at the piano stops, and there is a procession of the folks in charge, each of whom thanks those on their teams who helped to organize this affair. Ball Chairs Dwight Jackson, Russ Patrick and Joe Stewart beget Patina chefs Joachim Splichal and Alec Lestr, who in turn precede Sequoia Productions founder Cheryl Cecchetto, who is the picture of party-planning ebullience. The call is put forth for food to be produced, and tiny plates serving miniature renditions of the event's menus are brought out and served. Quite frankly, if one's reward for acting well was an evening of these eats, I'd put on a show that would reduce Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland to helpless tears.

After this, more mingling, more Grey Goose Emmys for those in attendance. I have been too long at the Pleasure Dome, I feel; mere mortals such as I begin to yearn for the simpler pleasures below Mount Olympus, such as home and family and the green grass of Sherman Oaks. But one last sample, to bring to the others to show them part of the world that exists in a special place called Emmy: a to-go box, bearing the Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, for my wife, for whom there could never been enough awards or special drinks or yards of Fortuny-like patterned cloth.

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: Matt Sayles / AP