The 9th Annual TV Land Awards aired Sunday night, and if viewers had even half as much fun as honoree John Travolta did, it was worth tuning in for. Let’s break it down:
Best presenter: Stevie Wonder, who guested on The Cosby Show in 1986. He presented the cast with the Impact award. The show, Wonder said, “united us in love, laughter, and dignity,” and “reminded us that we are all one family. It lifted us up and took us all to higher ground.” Cue a live rendition of “Higher Ground” that eventually had Bill Cosby dancing at his table. (Rewind!) When the cast took the stage, Wonder cracked, “Bill, now tell the truth. Y’all know I never saw The Cosby Show. I’m blind. Come on.” The two got the biggest laugh of the night with this exchange:
Bill Cosby: I am very, very upset because I am the father of these children, and they were sittin’ at the table drinking. They had champagne, Steven. My children were drinking, Stevie. I saw the baby, Rudy, put the bottle up to her mouth.
Stevie Wonder: Just act like you didn’t see them, Bill.
Bill Cosby: Oh yeah, it’s easy for you to say.
Worst presenter: The Real Housewives of New York, who introduced a tribute montage to TV housewives. Truly, I believe the ladies were there simply because they agreed to get up and dance to Hall & Oates, who received the Icon award. (Hall & Oates performed “Rich Girl.” I’m just sayin’.)
Best musical moment: The clip montage for Fan Favorite Family Ties, which had you begging to see the train station scene between Alex (Michael J. Fox) and Ellen (his future wife Tracy Pollan), ended with it — then bled into a live performance of “At This Moment” by Billy Vera as additional footage played behind him. I teared up. I just love that you could ask a generation about that song and the first thing most people would say is, “Oh god, remember that episode of Family Ties?”
Worst musical moment: After presenting the cast of Welcome Back, Kotter with the 35th Anniversary award, Glee‘s Jane Lynch had the job of saying goodnight to close the show. The dancers from Liza Minnelli’s opening production number, “New York, New York,” returned and stood behind her doing a kick line. At first it was fun, seeing a bemused Lynch unsure what to do, with her head buried in her hands. But it went on long enough to become both awkward and feel like a missed opportunity. You have Jane Lynch. On stage. With dancers! Runner-up moment: Every time Rickey Minor and The TV Land Band played “Empire State of Mind” in and out of commercial after the first time.
Best speech by a supporting player: Geri Jewell from Pop Culture award honoree The Facts of Life. “When I was a kid, I was made fun of a lot and ridiculed. And my escape was television. And I lived for television. And I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a comedienne. And they cast me in this wonderful show, Facts of Life, and it was the first time in my life that kids weren’t afraid of me when they saw me, but they wanted my autograph. And I am so proud to be a part of that.”
Worst speech by a supporting player: The Facts of Life‘s Cloris Leachman. “Thank you for my award.” That’s it? Dignified, but so disappointing!
Best surprise: John Travolta wasn’t too cool for school. In fact, he was the ideal guest. Not only did he sing along to Liza, Stevie, and Hall & Oates and do his old catchphrases, he came prepared to tell the story of why Welcome Back, Kotter was the easiest, greatest, and most fun job in show business. “Our week was 20 hours long. On Monday, you arrived at 11 a.m.. Larry [Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, aka Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington] and I would go off and have a big breakfast. We’d come back from breakfast, and read through the script, which took 22 minutes. We broke for lunch. We had lunch. Then we’d come back, there is no more rehearsal because they have to rewrite the script…. so we went and had dinner. We gained like 15 pounds in a matter of 10 days,” he said. “And it was the day of the method actor. We were all in character. We never broke character for 5 years. We annoyed every director, every producer, and every guest star. They hated us because we were in character all the time. But I got to tell you after 35 years, I wondered what Barbarino would be doing, and he’s standing here tonight very proud to be here. And what he would say to you is, ‘What?… Where?… I’m so confused.'” Bonus points for wife Kelly Preston taking a photo or video of him onstage with his castmates on her phone.
Worst surprise: George Clooney didn’t show up unannounced to introduce the ladies from The Facts of Life, nor did he tape a message. They, instead, got the trio from TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, because both shows are about women living together. Lame! That intro should have been way more fun. It fell as flat as Charlotte Rae (aka Mrs. Garrett) trying to compliment her castmates for growing up well by saying, “I’m so proud of my girls. They all turned out to be straight! Straight!” (Family Ties‘ openly gay Meredith Baxter had fun with that during her speech: “We didn’t all come out as straight as apparently The Facts of Life cast, but we’re doing pretty well,” she said. The cameraman cut to Facts of Life‘s openly gay Jewell.)
Best reminder of what TV can be: Tie: Bill Cosby noted that both The Cosby Show and Family Ties were family shows in which the mother and father were respected because they taught audiences about parenting and “what to say to your child when they’ve lost their mind.” Gabe Kaplan (aka Mr. Kotter) said Welcome Back, Kotter was inspired by the diverse backgrounds represented in his group of friends when he was in school — black, Puerto Rican, Polish, Italian, and Jewish — but that the beauty of the show was that after the first episode, viewers just saw Sweathogs. (P.S. I love that Robert Hegyes, aka Juan Epstein, was wearing Converse with his suit. And that he’s still got that full head of hair.)
Worst reminder of what TV can be: Accepting his Legend award from presenter Barbara Walters, Regis Philbin joked, “This is a big surprise. I thought for sure Snooki would win tonight.”
Best tribute to a show not being honored: The evening’s only video spoof was inspired by The King’s Speech. I won’t spoil it for you. Watch it below.