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17 Emmy, Oscar, and Other Award Show Scandals That Rocked the Industry

Name gaffes, victorious felons, fistfights, sexist gags, controversial kisses, and cameos, oh my! Awards shows, often aired live and starring the world's richest and most famous players, have seen their fair share of scandals over the years but as they say, the shows must go on.

66th Primetime Emmy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USAVince Bucci/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Hot on their case

At the 2014 Emmys, many feminists, social media users, and critics alike slammed a sight gag featuring Sofia Vergara and the Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum. The joke literally placed the super sexy Modern Family star on a slowly revolving pedestal. With her curves on full display, Rosenblum ended his boring speech about the state of TV with what seemed like a justification of the “sex sells” mentality. “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.” Vergara didn’t understand the backlash. She told Entertainment Weekly that she did not see the gag as demeaning. “It’s absolutely the opposite. It means that somebody can be hot and also funny and make fun of herself. Somebody started this who has no sense of humor.” Check out 16 fun facts you might not know about the Emmy Awards.

APTOPIX 89th Academy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 26 Feb 2017Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Best Picture bombshell

February 26, 2017 is an Oscar night that will live in infamy. Former Bonnie and Clyde costars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were presenting the Best Picture category. Beatty looked confused as he pulled the winner’s name out of the red envelope and tossed it to Dunaway who called out La La Land. The team behind the musical rushed the stage and started gushing, giving thanks, and suggesting that more people vow to make “bold and diverse” work. During the second and third speeches, men in headsets started gathering on stage and inspecting envelopes while the faces of the cast and crew started to change. Producer Justin Horowitz then announced that Moonlight had actually won and held up the correct card. Shock spread throughout the theater, Moonlight folks hesitantly walked up, host Jimmy Kimmel blamed Steve Harvey and suggested everyone get statues, and Beatty returned to the microphone to explain that he wasn’t “trying to be funny.” He had been given a duplicate envelope and card for the Best Actress In A Leading Role winner, which read “Emma Stone, La La Land“—Stone had received the award earlier in the night.

MTV Video Music Awards Show, New York, USA - 13 Sep 2009Jason DeCrow/AP/Shutterstock

Girl interrupted

Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, but when he jumped on stage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and stole the mic from then-19-year-old Taylor Swift’s hands just as she’d started her acceptance speech for Best Female Video, he’d reached peak bad Yeezy. Apparently, he thought his gal pal Beyoncé deserved the award for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” more than the country-pop singer. “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time,” he said before returning the mic. He was booed and President Obama even labeled it a “jackass” move. And as for Queen B, she invited Swift onstage with her as she accepted the Video Of The Year award later that night. The beef between West and Swift has played on for years as both artists made diss tracks, took to social media, apologized, gave and then retracted forgiveness, and so on.

69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2017 Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Not imPRESSed

Host Stephen Colbert invited an unwelcome guest to spice up his opening monologue at the 2017 Emmy Awards. During a joke about making that year’s show the most-watched Emmy telecast ever, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer rolled in behind a replica of his infamous podium just as Melissa McCarthy, who was in the audience a few rows away, does when she portrayed him on Saturday Night Live. Spicer declared, “This is the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period. Both in person and around the world.” The joke referenced a lie Spicer was complicit to about attendance numbers at President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration in January of that year. Hollywood and fans did not seem ready to laugh with “Spicey” and many like Kumail Nanjiani, James Corden, Kal Penn, and Seth Rogen tweeted their disgust that he was given even a moment to redeem himself or look sympathetic. Harry Potter‘s Jason Isaacs posted a photo of the “poisonous purveyor of lies” at the bar at the Netflix party and posted that he has the “aura of a giant festering abscess.”


Can’t we all just get along?

In 2001, the LGBT community was up in arms over the homophobic lyrics penned by Eminem for The Marshall Mathers LP. When he was announced as a performer at the 2001 Grammy Awards, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) protested the decision. In response to the backlash, the rapper was paired with the openly gay Elton John for a rendition of Eminem’s “Stan.” GLAAD picketed outside the arena, but the musicians hugged at the end. Eminem couldn’t let it be though—he flipped the bird at the audience. However, the two have remained friends with Eminem even giving John a cheeky wedding gift.

Pop Culture Moments, Los Angeles, USAJohn Shearer/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Who Is Adele Dazeem?

John Travolta had one job to do at the 2014 Oscars: Introduce Frozen singer/actress Idina Menzel’s performance of what would become that evening’s Best Original Song winner. Instead, he bizarrely welcomed Adele Dazeem to the stage. Most assumed he was inebriated while some feared he’d had a stroke. He blamed a frazzled entrance, an unexpected encounter with Goldie Hawn, and a change on the cue cards. Menzel let it go, but not before playfully returning the favor the following year by asking Glom Gazingo to join her on stage and jokingly adding, “It’s not like it’s going to follow me around for the rest of my life or anything.” This slip of the tongue made our list of 12 funniest Oscar moments.

Television Academy Daytime Peer Group Emmy Celebration, Los Angeles, USA - 22 Aug 2018MediaPunch/Shutterstock

Four’s a crowd

There is strength in numbers when it comes to this still-unfolding scandal. Actress Patrika Darbo’s 2018 Daytime Emmy for the Amazon soap opera The Bay was rescinded after the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences found submission errors in her category (as well as a few other categories). First, the Days Of Our Lives alum spoke out against the Academy and demanded an outside audit. Shortly after, the four daytime soaps on main networks—The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of our Lives, General Hospital, and The Young and the Restless—banded behind her and sent a joint letter demanding changes in the voting and accounting processes and vowing not to participate in future competitions unless the issues get resolved. The chair of NATAS has requested an outside counsel be brought in for an independent look at the practices in question.

Film Political Acceptance Speeches, Los Angeles, USA - 23 Mar 2003Kevork Djansezian/AP/Shutterstock

Booing for Columbine

Wherever filmmaker Michael Moore goes, controversy usually follows. (Although in all fairness, he seems to like it that way.) In 2003, he took to the Oscars stage to accept the Best Documentary statue for his anti-gun film Bowling For Columbine and took the opportunity to get something else off his mind. “We live in fictitious times where we have fictitious election results, that elects a fictitious president,” he said of then-President George W. Bush. “We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” Surprisingly, Hollywood’s generally liberal elite booed and heckled the director. The abnormal reaction may have been a result of the general “rallying together against a common enemy” vibe as it was not that long after the 9/11 attacks.

Miss Universe Pageant, Las Vegas, USA - 20 Dec 2015John Locher/AP/Shutterstock

Heavy is the crown

As host of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, Steve Harvey had the privilege of announcing that yet another Miss Colombia would be taking the title. Unfortunately for Ariadna Gutierrez, he was wrong. Harvey returned to the stage to correct his error and she had to dip down and let the last year’s winner take the crown off her head and transplant it to a stunned speechless Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach. Harvey told Jimmy Fallon that the “four minutes of hell” were the result of a lagging teleprompter and misunderstood instructions being whispered in his earpiece. “It was the most gut-wrenching walk I’ve ever had in my life,” Harvey said. “I was brought up to face whatever there is, so I went out and dealt with it.”

FRANKLIN HANSEN, WILL ROGERS, AND FRANK LLOYD At the 6th Academy Awards ceremonyCourtesy AMPAS

Not “frank” enough

Given how long ago this next flub happened, it’s probably safe to say most readers won’t remember this one. When Will Rogers announced who won Best Director at the 1934 Academy Awards, he vaguely blurted out, “Come up and get it, Frank.” Frank Capra, nominated for Lady For A Day made his way for the podium. Unfortunately for him, the award belonged to another Frank (Lloyd) who had directed Cavalcade. When Capra wrote about the mishap in his autobiography, he referred to himself as a “big stupido.” Read on for the 20 most quotable Oscar quotes.

90th Annual Academy Awards, Backstage, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018Matt Petit/A.M.P.A.S./Shutterstock

The vanishing

Weeks before the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, 55 Oscar trophies were lifted from a loading dock in Los Angeles. A few days later as the company raced to manufacture replacements in time for movies’ biggest night, an unemployed junk scavenger named Willie Fulgear found 52 of them while rummaging through a dumpster behind a Koreatown Food 4 Less in Los Angeles. Fulgear was given a $50,000 reward and two tickets to the Oscars. The thieves were caught, admitted to chickening out, and received light punishment. One Oscar turned up in 2003 during a Florida drug bust and two are still missing. Fun fact: The recovered awards were destroyed because they figured no star would want damaged goods and later admitted that batch was actually earmarked for the 2001 awards as their policy was to make figurines a year in advance. See 13 of the other weirdest things people have tried to steal.

58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, America - 27 Aug 2006Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

Delayed response

It was a case of censor-y overload. Dame Helen Mirren, who is known in the industry for her sassiness and potty mouth, was summoned to the stage at the 58th Emmy Awards to pick up the trophy for Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, her career third Emmy. Apparently, playing staid British royals has not rubbed off on the actress. She ascended the steep stapes from the audience while balancing a shawl around her shoulders and when she got to the microphone, she laughed, “My great triumph is not falling a*s over t*t as I came up those stairs. If you saw the shoes I’ve got on, you’d understand.” Whether it was because of her thick accent, her posh aura, or the assumption that a woman of her age would not dare swear on live TV, the censors failed to bleep the profanity and the actually hilarious and adorable moment was blasted out to homes across the United States.

Anniversary Soiree, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 23 May 2017SEBASTIEN NOGIER/EPA/Shutterstock

Convicted rapist wins best director

In 1978, acclaimed director Roman Polanski admitted he’d given a 13-year-old girl champagne and a Quaalude, pled guilty to the statutory rape, spent 42 days in jail, and then fled the country before sentencing because he feared the judge would toss out the lenient plea deal. Still a fugitive of the law in the United States, he has spent his days in France and other countries that agreed not to extradite him. None of that stopped the Academy from awarding him a Best Director Oscar in 2003 for his film, The Pianist. In fact, he even received a standing ovation despite not even being there to accept it. But people have argued about the controversial win for years. When the #MeToo movement really kicked into gear in 2017 and Harvey Weinstein had his Academy membership revoked after being accused of several accounts of sexual assault and harassment, the Polanski debate was reignited. In 2018, Polanski and Bill Cosby were also expelled from the Oscars organization.

72nd Annual Academy Awards Governor's BallBEI/Shutterstock

A kiss is just a kiss. Or is it?

They say loose lips sink ships and there have certainly been plenty of questionable kissing moments over the years including Britney Spears and Madonna’s famous smooch at the 2003 VMAs or Nicole Kidman bussing her Big Little Lies husband Alexander Skarsgard after his win at the 2017 Emmys as her real-life husband Keith Urban looked on. But the kiss that made the most hairs bristle was the overly long one shared by Angelina Jolie and her date/brother James Haven on the Vanity Fair Oscar party red carpet in 2000 in their his-and-hers goth duds. Making matters worse, her speech for winning Best Supporting Actor for Girl, Interrupted. “I’m in shock. And I’m just so in love with my brother right now,” she said a little too emphatically. “He just held me and said he loved me and I know he’s so happy for me.” They simply said people were turning it into something it wasn’t. Almost 14 years later, another explanation emerged when their mother’s best friend revealed they’d spent the hours before the show with their mother who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and received her first treatment that day.

People Bret Michaels, New York, USASeth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

Be on your “Bret” behavior

In 1991, during the height of Poison’s popularity thanks to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Unskinny Bop” and amidst in-fighting, alcohol, and drug abuse, and sleazy on-the-road sexcapades, feuding lead singer Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. Deville found their breaking point at the MTV VMAs. As the musicians walked off stage with Cindy Crawford and Eddie Van Halen, the bandmates broke out in a full-on fistfight and the rift led to Deville exiting the band. Flash forward to 2009 and the Tony Awards where Michaels performed Poison‘s hit “Nothin’ But a Good Time” with the cast of Broadway’s Rock of Ages, a play about the world of over-the-top ’80s hair metal. Unfortunately, at the end of song, Michaels was knocked to the ground by a descending piece of scenery. The Tonys crew said he missed his mark and host Neil Patrick Harris seconded that statement in an on-stage joke saying Michaels “gave headbanging a whole new meaning.” The singer, who fractured his nose and needed three stitches in his lip, clapped back saying that he was never given a mark to hit or told about the set piece. He was upset that the organizers blamed the accident on him and that they announced that he was fine before he saw a doctor. He went on to sue the show organizers and CBS over the incident.


Wardrobe malfunction

Questionable clothes can be a recurring award show nightmare or watercooler-worthy crowd pleaser in the case of Lady Gaga’s raw meat dress or Bjork’s egg-laying swan costume. Flamboyant Andre 3000 of OutKast found himself in the former situation when the duo, who had just won Album Of The Year, closed the 2004 Grammy ceremony. They did “Hey Ya” with a Native American slant complete with a futuristic teepee, moccasins, and scantily clad dancers with feathers in their hair. Native Americans were outraged and CBS wound up apologizing on everyone’s behalf.


Name blame

Long before the MoonlightLa La Land snafu, Marisa Tomei found herself at the center of an Oscar scandal and its effects would be felt for years to follow due mostly to the fact that it happened in 1993, long before the world had Snopes or social media for fact-checking. Tomei was the underdog. She was a relative newbie at the time in the lighthearted sleeper hit My Cousin Vinny. She was pitted against four more experienced non-Americans with heavier roles. Against the odds, she persevered. But the day after the show, The Hollywood Reporter printed a blind item about rumors flying in Manhattan that she had not really won. They claimed that presenter Jack Palance was either too drunk or stoned to read the correct name so he just repeated the last name on the teleprompter. The story was passed around and reprinted and even though the Academy repeatedly confirmed there was no mistake, the doubt remained. Tomei is still asked about it and is still a punchline. She’s probably the only person that felt relief a couple of years ago.

Carrie Bell
Carrie Bell is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been covering travel, entertainment, food, and other culture/lifestyle topics for nearly two decades. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, People, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Fodor’s, and Bridal Guide and she is Southern California specialist for TripSavvy. She earned a BA in journalism at Humboldt State University in only three years and co-authored The Bathtub Reader: An Amusing Miscellany for the Discerning Mademoiselle.

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