You know, we're supposed to believe that watching the Emmys on TV is the next best thing to being there, but damn — last night's live broadcast of the 54th annual award ceremony sure didn't make it easy. During his opening monologue, host Conan O'Brien joked that, in hopes of sending ratings through the roof, NBC had asked him to become smitten with someone in the audience right then and there. He balked, of course. Then, as the opening strains of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" began to play, he caught sight of Jennifer Aniston blowing him a kiss — and, a moment later, a surprisingly game Brad Pitt glowering. So, on O'Brien quickly moved to alluring Garry Shandling and a cut-away clip of the faux beaux sharing a romantic horseback ride on the beach. (Later, Shandling cracked that the bit was so gay, Sean Hayes would have refused to do it.) After that, the evening only got wilder and crazier. If you were expecting the same old, same old from the black-tie back-slap and made the mistake of tuning out, read on for TV Guide Online's rundown of all the highlights. It's the second best thing to being there. No, really!
The f---ing excellent Osbournes skit. Before the show even began, the First Family of reality TV turned up in a pretaped goof that found O'Brien waking up so bleeping late at Casa Osbourne that, in order to make it to the Shrine Auditorium on time, he had to borrow metal-god duds from Ozzy and, scarier still, let Kelly apply his make-up. (It could have been worse: He could have been forced to accept a loaner outfit from Kelly. When the world's creepiest Cabbage Patch Kid eventually took to the dais with her clan, she resembled nothing so much as the long-lost love child of Dolly Parton and Stephen King.)
The widespread sexual tension. We know it was hot in L.A. (we caught Kelsey Grammer mopping his brow during NBC's pre-kickoff coverage), but this was ridiculous. Sex and the City director Michael Patrick King thanked boss Darren Star for asking him "to be his Sex partner," then added, "That's a euphemism!" Moments later, in her first trip to the podium, Stockard Channing called West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin "the sexiest man in Hollywood," period. Finally, once he'd claimed his trophy from his onetime Law & Order colleague Jill Hennessy, Michael Moriarty sighed, "I haven't seen that gorgeous lady for years." Now there's somebody who wouldn't mind crossing Jordan.
The clever script. Who needs Bruce Vilanch? Emmy did just fine without him. In one inspired gag, O'Brien used an overhead camera to reveal the intricacies of the kudofest's seating arrangements, pointing out not only the area reserved for "parasites and sycophants," but also the small block of chairs set aside for "black people who watch Frasier." (Our favorite throwaway line: Introducing Michael Chiklis, O'Brien said, "Coincidentally, I was chickless throughout most of my 20s." Later, upon being handed his statuette by three Sex and the City femmes fatales, the Shield cop himself cracked, "So much for being chickless!") In another bit that packed unexpected bite, a sparring match between pseudo-antagonistic co-presenters Robert Wuhl and Frankie Muniz culminated in the Arliss funnyman offering the 17-year-old wiseacre four ominous words of warning: "E! True Hollywood Story."
The cleverer ad libs. A number of actors proved (again, in some cases) that they are even better at delivering their own zingers than those of high-paid writers. Following a victory sprint worthy of Roberto Benigni, Everybody Loves Raymond's Brad Garrett cracked, "I just hope this award breaks down the door for Jewish people who are trying to break into show business." Subsequently accepting her prize, Raymond castmate Doris Roberts chuckled, "This is what happens when you're young and sexy." And finally, after Ray Romano delivered a good-natured spiel about his mother's disappointment over his (soon-to-end) status as an also-ran, Garry Shandling offered his empathy, saying that he, too, had done time in the loser's circle. Only when he went home to Mom, she told him, "And your dinner goes to Kelsey Grammer, too."
The golden girls. Heather Locklear turned heads by spilling forth from a low-cut cocktail dress (hey, whad'ya expect from the megababe formerly known as Amanda Woodward?). But she seemed about as appealing to co-presenter Simon Baker as algae in the Melrose Place pool — the Guardian hunk couldn't possibly have stood any further away from her and still remained on camera. For real glamour, we looked to a couple of women of a certain age — Cloris Leachman and Vanessa Redgrave — both wrinkled, refined and utterly radiant. (For heaven's sake, Redgrave got so many close-ups during the three-plus-hour love-in that we can only assume that someone in the control booth heartily agreed with us.)
Sincerity? What? In Tinseltown?! And they said it wasn't for real. As Oprah became the first recipient of the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, significant other Steadman pulled a full-on Chad Lowe — tears rolling down his cheeks, lower lip trembling... the works. Equally believable was the thousand-watt smile flashed by disgruntled West Wing actor Rob Lowe as triumphant co-star John Spencer crowed, "Look at my compadres — they are so happy for me!" (Why did we buy Lowe's enthusiasm? If he'd been a crafty enough performer to fool us, he would've gotten a nomination himself. Ouch.) Toward the end of the affair, dark-horse contender Michael Chiklis blew his tough-guy image, choking up as he clutched his Emmy and blubbered, "We all have a place inside us that allows us to dream of a moment like this." (Had he not come off so darn earnest, we would've been listening for the bandleader to cue up that schmaltzy American Idol single.) Yet it was Ray Romano who distinguished himself as the most forthright fellow in the house by offering heartfelt thanks to his agents and managers — or, as he called them, "all those people who take my money."