65th Primetime Emmy Awards

Night of the Dead

Edie Falco presents a tribute to James Gandolfini during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photo by Kevin …

There were a lot of directions tonight's Emmy's show could've gone in, but by the midpoint it was clear the night had coalesced around a theme few had expected: The Night of the Dead.
 
And not the Living Dead, not the bleary-eyed audience members hanging in there as yet another dance number began; nor the ghosts of Jon Stewart's 10-year winning streak. But the in-the-ground dead. Emmy's fallen were out in more force tonight than off the shoulder gowns or spray on tans.
 
Every time the show got a little spring in its step, it took a sudden turn for the morbid.

[ Related: Full list of 2013 Emmy winners ]

The first and biggest problem was the decision to split up the In Memoriam tributes throughout the show. Rather than doing them all at once, in the one giant let's-pause-to-remember moment that awards shows typically use, the Emmycast returned to the dead theme over and over with heartfelt tributes from Jane Lynch, Edie Falco and others to their lost colleagues of the last year.
 
And on top of those speeches, there was still the viola-backed tribute reel to the full ranks for the fallen.
 
But that wasn't all. There was the odd remembrance of the death of JFK/the Beatles coming to America set to the band's mournful "Yesterday" sung by Carrie Underwood.

Then there was the bizarre, somber Elton John tribute to the joyful Liberace with a seemingly endless dirge backed by heaven's chorus.

And finally, perhaps the night's most wrenching moment, the widow of the late writer Henry Bromell's tearful acceptance of his posthumous award for writing on "Homeland."

By midway through the show, Twitter was out in force, wondering how a night of celebration became perhaps the greatest wake prime time had ever seen.

 
And, in the end, even one of the night's biggest winners couldn't help but note the night's weirdly prevalent theme.
 
"This might be the saddest Emmys of all time," deadpanned "Modern Family" producer Steve Levitan upon accepting his statuette, "but we couldn't be happier."