Although the 52nd annual Emmy Awards telecast started off with a predictable (but raunchily funny) Survivor spoof, the ceremony itself was shocking: It didn't feel like 13 weeks on Pulau Tiga (and, in fact, ran over by just two minutes).
A lot of the credit should go to host Garry Shandling, who relied heavily, and very successfully, upon the insecure, sexually ambiguous Hollywood-insider persona that he perfected on his HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show. Whether furthering his flirtation with David Duchovny (playing himself as an overly familiar bathroom attendant in one of a series of "behind-the-scenes" skits) or going off-script and inviting the trophy girl to introduce the next presenter, the funnyman seemed utterly in his element, more like he was presiding wittily over a gathering of business associates for whom he has only grudging respect than anchoring a stuffy black-tie event.
Case in point: Paying Ray Romano a backhanded insult, and tempering it with his trademark self-deprecation, Shandling said he admired the nominee for having the chutzpah to call his show Everybody Loves Raymond. "Once, I pitched a show called Some People Like Garry, But It Always Ends Badly."
The producers also deserve snaps for having the guts and good humor to follow up a montage of highfalutin scenes from the past season with a segment that shone a spotlight on televisions's more dubious fare: The Jerry Springer Show, the Home Shopping Network, monster trucks.
But the biggest pat on the back ought to be given to the writing team, for when Shandling wasn't at the mike, the broadcast still breezed along on the strength of its zingers. Sarah Jessica Parker noted that Emmy herself had a great deal in common with the promiscuous femmes fatales of Sex and the City. "She's single, everyone wants to get their hands on her, and tonight she will only go home with 27 of you."
Handing out the Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy, Dharma & Greg's Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson explained that victors in this category had overstepped their bounds and their series' leads were not happy about it, no matter what congratulations they might offer. "If you don't believe us," Gibson added, "ask Christine Baranski [the beleaguered scene stealer of Cybill]."
Even the ad libs were pithy. Once Cher had lost the prize for Best Individual Performance in a Variety or Musical Program and changed clothes and covered her raven tresses with a flaxen wig she cracked, "I was so upset about not winning that my hair turned blond. Then, of course, I forgot."
In accepting her Best Actress in a Comedy Series statuette, Patricia Heaton thanked "God for thinking me up, and my mother for letting me out."
The little blunders along the way were good for a smile, too. If viewers didn't love Romano before seeing his anticipatory reaction to Jennifer Aniston leaving his name off the list of Best Actor in a Comedy Series contenders, they had to have afterward. And the spectacularly Chandleresque fashion in which Matthew Perry tripped up his lines could only have made him new Friends as well.
Naturally, throughout the proceedings, the specter of reality TV loomed large. "They wanted to call this Who Wants to Win an Emmy," deadpanned Shandling. However, such a satisfying celebration of unreality TV surely bought the golden girl at least one more good night's sleep. After all, it will be a whole year now before she again has to consider adding a category for Best Performance by a Fat Naked Guy on an Island.