Following the devastating attacks on the United States, the 53rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony was postponed by three weeks. After America retaliated against Afghanistan, CBS rescheduled the proceedings again. But really, by then, what was the point? Watching the rich and famous pat themselves on the back for doing the jobs that made them rich and famous has never exactly been an experience that set anyone's soul aglow, and that was before the world was turned upside down. So now that our nation has entered into an indeterminate period of mourning and gone to war, why bother handing out the golden girls at all?

It turns out, the answer is reassurance. In these, the most uncertain times that many of us have ever known, it is comforting just to see the personalities whom we invite into our living rooms each evening. Furthermore, to come away with the impression that many of them are not at all the money-grubbing egomaniacs that cynics would have us believe that they are is, especially now, a gift of incalculable value. For those of you who missed the historic — and, miraculously, often hilarious — broadcast, here's what happened when, at last, the show went on.

Ellen DeGeneres scored big time. From the moment that she was called to the plate by Walter Cronkite (appearing via satellite), the host hit one home run after another. Whether paying lip service to Emmy's all-American timeslot competitor, the World Series; making boss Les Moonves squirm by bringing up the future of her struggling series, The Ellen Show; or ignoring Steve Martin to interview a seat filler, then introducing Martin as Leslie Nielsen, the funny lady distinguished herself not just as the night's MVP, but as one of the industry's. Heck, she even managed to take a swing at Afghan terrorists and Hollywood bigwigs in the same joke. "[The Taliban] can't take away our creativity," she cracked. "Only network executives can do that."

Charmers filled the winners' circle. When Bradley Whitford reached the dais, he cracked, "I work on The West Wing, so I have a really fast speech to say." Ally McBeal's Peter MacNicol confessed that he was scared silly since "the only words I prepared were for my parents, explaining why I lost." And accepting her plaudits for Everybody Loves Raymond, birthday girl Doris Roberts crowed, "I'm 71 tonight, and I'm kickin', honey!"

Surprises came fast and furious. And, occasionally, when you least expected them. During a rundown of the contenders in the variety/music program writing category, images of The Daily Show's scribes were replaced by shots of monkeys. Funnier still, every time that a Saturday Night Live staffer was named, a picture was flashed of mugging cast member Chris Kattan dolled up to look like everyone from co-star (and head writer) Tina Fey to Bruce Vilanch. Later, Carol Burnett Show alumni Tim Conway and Harvey Korman were called on to present the best comedy series Emmy, but only Conway strolled on stage. He then proceeded to read only his lines, leaving dead air where Korman's retorts would have gone. The biggest shock, however, was that, after Barbra Streisand was said to be unable to accept her Emmy in person, she materialized in time to close the program. Standing before a shrine to the police and firefighters who gave their lives trying to rescue others, the vocalist belted out "You'll Never Walk Alone" with such glorious clarity that she could've cut... well, you know, butter.

Black-and-white TV made a comeback. By and large, celebrities dressed to match the country's somber mood. However, a few attendants found ways to express their reverence with a trifle more creativity. ER doc Michael Michele, for instance, forewent wearing a blouse with her suit jacket. King of Queens cut-up Leah Remini poured herself into a number resembling nothing so much as a snakeskin flapper costume. And Dark Angel vamp Jessica Alba spilled forth from a low-cut LBD that fit her so well that it might have been painted on (and, judging from the way that she kept staring at Alias's more conservatively attired heroine, Jennifer Garner, she couldn't believe that everyone hadn't followed suit). But it was still DeGeneres who made the biggest impression by briefly donning a replica of the swan dress that placed singer Bj&#246rk atop Mr. Blackwell's Worst-Dressed List for life.

We laughed. During his turn at the mike with Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond prankster Ray Romano traded standard-issue patter for a script prepared by his two eight-year-old children — in which he revealed to his leading lady that, to keep the kids from worrying about him kissing a woman other than Mommy on TV, "I kind of tell them that you have a weiner." Later, on realizing that Dame Judi Dench — among a great many others — was not present to accept her statuette, good-humor man Steve Martin leapt out of his seat and went for the gold himself. "I didn't win... ," he said eagerly, "and I see these Emmys going begging!"

We cried. Opening the show with a passionate rendition of "America the Beautiful," Phil Driscoll's soaring trumpet (and equally powerful voice) reduced Kelsey Grammer and Aida Turturro (The Sopranos) to tears. Bradley Whitford achieved the same feat, at least with his wife, Malcolm in the Middle mom Jane Kaczmarek, by speaking of her with such adoration that, afterward, DeGeneres couldn't resist making a reference to Tom Hanks's notoriously syrupy tributes to his missus. "Take that, Rita [Wilson]!" she grinned.

We pledged allegiance to the flag. In addition a clip package saluting the entertainers who have gone abroad over the years to raise the morale of our troops, and an oddly static montage thanking the nations that have stood by the U.S. as it enters the battlefield, several winners proudly indicated that they bled red, white and blue. Patricia Heaton expressed her gratitude to the men and women of the armed forces. "I want to dedicate my performances this year," she said, "to those people and their families." The Sopranos's Edie Falco paid her respects to New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. And even foreign-born Will & Grace actor Eric McCormack began his acceptance speech in an American way. "I'm a Canadian," he admitted, brandishing his Emmy, "and this is my American dream!"