Alec Baldwin courtesy NBC Photo
No awards system is perfect, and the TCA Awards is no exception. But arriving two days after the often-inexplicable results of the Emmy nominations, Saturday night's low-key, good-time TCA Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton was a welcome course correction to several especially egregious Emmy oversights. (And, lo and behold, nary a mention of Boston Legal anywhere.)

First up: Michael C. Hall, ignored by the Emmys but cited by the TCA for "Individual Achievement in Drama," for his mesmerizing performance in Showtime's Dexter as a serial killer targeting Miami's lowest forms of criminal life. (Other contenders in this category included Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, also shamefully snubbed at the Emmys.)

Friday Night Lights, a near shutout at the Emmys despite its status as a first-year critics' darling (and recipient of Peabody and AFI awards), was later named Outstanding New Program. (The field also included 30 Rock, Dexter, Heroes and Ugly Betty). In accepting, executive producer Jason Katims said, "For the last few days, you guys have been writing a lot about how we were snubbed. I didn't know we were snubbed. I just didn't think we won anything." So he thanked the TV press "for the experience of being so publicly snubbed." On a more serious note, he added, "You've been writing about the show from the beginning, you didn't stop writing about it, and I really in my heart feel that the reason why we started shooting the second season a few days ago is largely because of you." About the award itself: "There's a lot of shows that maybe deserved it as much or more than us, but nobody needed it as much as us." Truer words.

Although guest host John Oliver from The Daily Show brought down the house during his opening monologue, the comic highlight of the night came from Alec Baldwin, a justifiably popular fave for his twisted work on 30 Rock as a devilishly manipulative network suit. In accepting his award for Individual Achievement in Comedy, he made no reference to his tabloid-scandal life or his declaration a while back to quit showbiz. Instead, he gave a friendly shout-out to the HBO table where The Sopranos' creator David Chase sat.

"I have to share with you just how sad I am on a personal note that The Sopranos is over." As the audience sighed, Baldwin added, "I'm really sad for selfish reasons, because I'm not going to be on The Sopranos now." (He didn't mention the fact that his brother Daniel was in the final season.) To raucous laughter, he told a side-splitting anecdote about his one previous encounter with David Chase, for whom he said he'd even changed agents in a futile quest to meet the man and get on the show. Soaking wet with sweat on a hot New York day after he arrived late for a lunch meeting at the Four Seasons restaurant, Baldwin was in the men's room, shirtless, drying his shirt under the hand blower when in walked the now-legendary producer. Chase's response: "Alec Baldwin?" Great story.

When Chase took the stage later to accept the first of two Sopranos awards, for Outstanding Achievement in Drama, he added to the story: "When I walked into that Four Seasons bathroom, all I thought was, 'Holy [bleep], that was Alec Baldwin, the famous movie star.' I didn't notice he didn't have a shirt on or anything."

Puckishly, in a reference to the mystifying end of The Sopranos, Chase quipped, "Here's another clue for you all: The Walrus was Paulie." (Beatles fans will get it.)

Chase's second trip to the stage was to accept the Heritage Award in honor of The Sopranos' legacy. He acknowledged presenter Alan Sepinwall, critic of the Newark Star-Ledger, by saying, "You're from New Jersey. I'm from New Jersey. Explain to these people: It is possible and very likely to be sitting in a restaurant in New Jersey and everything just stops."

But seriously, or not: After thanking the TV journalists ("You helped make our show a success very early on in the early days and all the way along, and I'll never forget it"), Chase noted, "Somebody said it would be a good idea to say something about that ending. And I really wasn't going to go into it. But I'll just say this to explain." At which point he told of going to see Planet of the Apes with his wife at age 23 as a film-school grad student. "When the movie was over, I said, 'Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too?' So that's what you're up against."

Not much light shed, true, but what a good and funny sport.

Other winners: Discovery's dazzling Planet Earth, a double winner in the categories of movies, miniseries and specials as well as news/information (unfortunately shutting out HBO's searing When the Levees Broke in both lists); ABC Family's Kyle XY for children's programming (a stretch, I know); The Office, a repeat winner for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy; and Heroes named as Program of the Year over American Idol, Friday Night Lights, Planet Earth, The Wire and When the Levees Broke. (As I said, we didn't get everything right.)

The only drag: Mary Tyler Moore was unable to attend to accept her Career Achievement Award. Instead, the ovation went to the presenter of that category, a living legend among TV critics: veteran Rocky Mountain News columnist Dusty Saunders, a beloved presence on the TCA press tour and a TCA founder. He's officially retiring (though he'll still be writing) after more than 50 years in the business, and I can honestly say there is no journalist in the room who commands more respect or who sets a higher example of self-effacing dignity and professional calm. What a pro.