In the best of times, the Emmys lack the higher-profile glitz of the Oscars, the unpredictability of the Golden Globes and the irreverence of the MTV Movie Awards.
Even before the delays caused by September's terrorist attacks, this year's Emmy nominations didn't rouse much anticipation for the ceremony itself. The nominations weren't old hat; they were more like a hat that was tattered, torn and unfit for wearing.
Yet the Emmy awards Sunday proved more worthwhile than expected, largely due to host Ellen DeGeneres. She drew laughs by making fun of the show's many delays ("Welcome to the 53rd, 54th and 55th Emmy Awards") and the no-shows ("Good evening to the seat fillers, security guards, Secret Service personnel and all the TV stars we love so much who are watching at home").
But DeGeneres got her biggest and best response explaining why she felt the show needed to go on.
"What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews? I like to do my part."
She earned the standing ovation she received at the conclusion of the ceremony.
The mix of patriotism and entertainment industry self-indulgence blended together surprisingly well. Actually, for all the talk of a radically different Emmy Awards show, last night's telecast felt pretty normal. Taped tributes didn't grind the show to a halt, and the exuberant acceptance speeches didn't come off as inappropriate.
More winners than usual didn't bother to show up to collect their awards, the program's biggest disappointment. It almost ensured the show ended by 11 p.m., and it would have if not for a surprise final number by Barbra Streisand. When an absentee Judy Davis won, Steve Martin vaulted to the stage.
"I didn't win in my category, and I see these Emmys going begging," Martin said before presenter Martin Sheen dragged him off.
Though the nominations were tired, the winners proved mostly new - "West Wing," Patricia Heaton and James Gandolfini notwithstanding. That doesn't mean "young" - just not the same old winners. It was particularly refreshing to see the deserving Doris Roberts win for her "Everybody Loves Raymond" role on her 71st birthday.
There was another reason to cheer - when Brian Cox beat out higher-profile actors Stanley Tucci and Victor Garber in the supporting actor in a miniseries or movie category. Cox's deserving win was for his role as arrogant Nazi leader Hermann Wilhelm Goering in the July 2000 TNT miniseries "Nuremberg."
Even presenters, when invoking the memories of those lost on Sept. 11, did so in ways that mostly didn't come off as maudlin. Presenter Jean Smart paid tribute to "Frasier" creator David Angell, who died when the plane he was in hit the World Trade Center, in words that rang true regardless of the attack on America.
"I hope the next time a writer with more than a few gray hairs walks into a studio executive's office, (the executive) won't think, 'I need somebody younger and hipper to write this.' Hopefully, they'll remember that some of those gray hairs represent a lot of experience and life and think of David Angell."
An announcer seemed to try too hard with the first few winners to connect them to New York as the winners took to the stage, but perhaps that was just coincidence.
Presenters and nominees mostly followed the Emmy guideline to dress in business casual attire (the men more than the women). "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart came dressed in a loose-fitting blouse that looked like the garb of a serving wench at a medieval-themed restaurant.
Here are our annual awards for the Emmys:
- The "Oh, Joan" Award: On E! Joan Rivers found a way to meld her tactless commentary with post-Sept. 11 relevance.
"Pam Anderson could be harboring an entire terrorist cell in her left breast," Rivers said in the Emmy pre-show. "Security is here and it's tighter than my face."
Melissa Rivers, on the other hand, coined a new word to describe a cast member of NBC's "The West Wing." She called actor John Spencer a "West Winger."
- Award for hyperbole: CBS's promotions department takes home the prize for a spot promoting Thursday night C.I.A. drama "The Agency," which declared it "a compelling hour of television every American must see." Really, don't take it as an order. I've seen the episode; it's not mandatory viewing.
- Better idea in theory than practice award: Having Jiminy Glick (Martin Short) present probably sounded good on paper, but Short's Glick didn't do anything at the Emmys he hasn't done on his Comedy Central series. Same with presenter Wayne Brady, who did the same imitations of James Brown and Little Richard on his self-named comedy series this summer.
- Award for best use of a character stereotype: DeGeneres joked that if teen-age "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz wins an Emmy, "He has a good shot of going home with Kim Cattrall. If he loses, he has a pretty good shot of going home with Kim Cattrall. Let's face it, we all do."
- Intentionally worst dressed award: DeGeneres appeared in a copy of the goofy swan dress that singer Bjrok wore to this year's Oscars. DeGeneres said she planned to wear it when the Emmys were scheduled for September, but she wasn't sure it was still appropriate. "Everyone knows it's fine to wear swan in September, but is it OK in November?"
- Shameless promotion award: Networks always do a little stacking of the deck, tapping actors from their shows to appear on the Emmy telecast, but CBS outdid itself. From DeGeneres ("The Ellen Show") to Simon Baker ("The Guardian"), from Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond") to Mary Tyler Moore touting next week's "I Love Lucy" special, CBS got its promotional money's worth.