Sure, the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards didn't boast the fireworks of last week's Kanye-"enhanced" VMAs, but CBS' entertaining three-hour telecast ran smoothly, a credit to host (and producer) Neil Patrick Harris, whose competent hand and effortless improvisational timing made him the subject of more than one of this year's top moments.
7. Best Dance: We'll be honest: Usually musical segments either bore or horrify us. But Dancing with the Stars' Maks and Karina combine exciting ballroom steps with modern costumes and music that doesn't remind us of Vienna. Their routine neatly segues into a hot routine by the kids of So You Think You Can Dance that keeps the show's momentum going but isn't so long that we curse the producers for padding the show.
6. Put-Down-the-Remote Award: The opening musical montage is a daunting proposition for any awards-show host. Harris, whose recent contributions to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the Tony Awards demonstrate that he can certainly carry a tune, acquits himself pretty well with a gleeful homage to watching TV. A highlight is a dizzying, rhyming list of all the networks. He also looks ahead to a smooth-running show: "Here's hoping Kanye West likes 30 Rock," he cracks.
5. Best Explanation of the Pecking Order: "The thing about the Golden Globes and the Oscars is that they have film stars with their jawlines and chiseled looks," Ricky Gervais explains as he presents the award for best variety show. "But in this room, I'm probably above average. Steve Carell is considered handsome [here]."
4. Television-Is-Dead Award: Just as the accountants from Ernst & Young begin a staid recitation of the awards' official rules, Harris, as the titular villain of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, interrupts their segment to declare television dead and to extol the virtues of watching content online, despite its smaller format and jerky transmissions. Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) arrives just in time to stand up for TV's rep. "I love CSI: Miami — the other two are a little too heady for me," he says.
3. Best Commentary: John Hodgman, the comic actor known for his gig as "the PC" in Apple's clever commercials, elicits many a chuckle with his witty (though not technically accurate) color commentary. "This is their 900th Emmy, and frankly that's too much," he deadpans, as The Daily Show accepts the best variety award.
2. Wildest Update: After Jon Cryer's surprise win for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Harris (who was a favorite to take the category) interrupts Cryer's backstage comments to reporters to ask, with faux-bitterness, how it felt to win. The sour grapes continue as The Amazing Race picks up its seventh Emmy for Best Reality Competition program. "Upsets at every turn!" Harris enthuses with mock awe.
1. Most Tearful Win (Sniff): "I don't know why I am crying right now," Pushing Daisies sweetheart Kristin Chenoweth says as she accepts her Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy. What starts as a heartfelt list of thank-yous morphs into a joking appeal for work: "I'm unemployed now, so I'd like to be on Mad Men," she says. "I also like The Office and 24."