By Tim Kenneally
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – Alec Baldwin’s decision to bail on Sunday night’s Emmy Awards was no joke. Or rather, it wasn’t over the cutting of a joke from the ceremony’s opening segment.
Though reports circulated over the weekend that the “30 Rock” star had decided not to attend the Emmys because a joke about NewsCorp’s phone-tapping scandal had been axed from the segment, Baldwin set the record straight.
According to the actor, he couldn’t make the show because he had a previous commitment to attend singer Tony Bennett’s 85th birthday party at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House that night.
“I didn’t skip the Emmys because of,” Baldwin told reporters at the birthday soiree. “I skipped the Emmys because of this — because I wanted to be here.”
In the taped segment, Baldwin joked that Rupert Murdoch was eavesdropping on his phone conversation — a reference to the phone-tapping scandal that has ravaged NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox, which broadcast the Emmys.
The gag was subsequently cut, which did cause Baldwin to withdraw entirely from the skit (he was replaced by Leonard Nimoy).
Baldwin acknowledged his displeasure over the situation via his Twitter account Sunday, writing, “Fox did kill my News Corp hacking joke. Which sucks bc I think it would have made them look better. A little.”
Later on he — somewhat — tempered his assessment, adding, “I understand News Corp killing that joke … If I were enmeshed in a scandal where I hacked phones of families of innocent crime victims purely 4 profit, I’d want that 2 go away, 2.”
According to an individual familiar with the situation, the Murdoch joke was included in the initial script for the skit, but it was suggested that the gag be cut when the script made the rounds of approval.
For reasons that aren’t clear, Baldwin told the joke anyway. Network officials say they chose to excise the joke because they don’t want to make light of the scandal, which so far has led to the multiple arrests and high-level departures in the company, as well as the closing of the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World.