Bill Cosby: Mark J. Terrill/AP/Wide World
Liane Bonin
September 21, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

You’d think a show that kicked off with Brad Garrett planting a big wet one on Garry Shandling would be a wild night, but Sunday’s 55th annual Emmy Awards turned out be less sexy than dull. Luckily, the stars were feeling friskier backstage, where several were happy to ponder which celebrity they’d like to corner for a same-sex smack.

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series winner Debra Messing (”Will & Grace”) thought her on-screen character might enjoy a tryst with Salma Hayek, whom she described as ”voluptuous and exotic and sensual and dark.” Ray Romano joked, ”Who would I want to do a deep kiss with? Jiminy Glick is Peter Boyle’s answer, and mine is Jiminy Cricket.”

Cohost George Lopez (”The George Lopez Show”) almost had his gay fantasy come true. ”The saddest part of my evening tonight was that ‘American Idol’ didn’t win, and I didn’t get a chance to French kiss Simon [Cowell]. He has some lovely A-cups, and that accent drives me nuts,” Lopez said. ”Any man who can fit into a Baby Gap T-shirt, you have to find sexy.”

Meanwhile, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series winner Garrett (”Everybody Loves Raymond”), who was himself the butt of a joke when James Gandolfini kiddingly thanked him for ”taking the heat off” of his own contract negotiations, found the funny side in his recent salary strike. ”There were a few people we were going to put in the trunk,” he said. ”It was business, that’s all it was. It gets a little dicey, a little edgy, but you hope everyone makes out on the deal.”

”West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin found that his fourth straight win for Outstanding Drama Series made him long for a steady job again (he resigned under network pressure earlier this year). ”Frankly, I’m jealous of everybody who gets to go to work on ‘The West Wing’ tomorrow morning,” he said. As for this year’s negative reviews, Sorkin was quick to come to the series’ defense. ”TV Guide doesn’t vote on the Emmy Awards,” he said. ”Nothing about this doesn’t feel great.”

Not every star was feeling so great, however. When asked why he seemed less than amused by Wanda Sykes’ teasing about ”The Cosby Mysteries,” Bob Hope Humanitarian Award winner Bill Cosby replied, ”I pass on that.”

And when it came to addressing the current trend in gay TV, the comedian didn’t think there’s much to laugh about. ”If we’re talking about gays and lesbians and women’s rights, be careful how they’re serving them up. Many times they’re serving them up in a gratuitous fashion.” Still, the TV icon was able to find a sly smile when asked about his mysterious dark sunglasses, shrugging, ”I don’t feel like taking them off.”

Despite the cavalcade of comic cohosts, the night’s mood was dampened by the recent passing of John Ritter, who received a special tribute on the show. ”He was the first guest on [‘The Wayne Brady Show’],” said Brady (the winner of the Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program award for ”Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) ”To tell him thank you for showing me how to do a pratfall, that meant everything.”

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series winner Tony Shalhoub (”Monk”) was also sobered by the passing of his nephew, Greg Gemsler. Gemsler, who had acute myeloid leukemia, had died the day before. ”It gave me a dilemma, because I wanted to go there today and be with my siblings, but they convinced me to stay,” he explained. ”So I thought it would be fitting for me to include him [in my acceptance speech].”

Of course, it wouldn’t be show business without a few stars stumping for their series. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose ”Amazing Race” won Outstanding Reality/Competition Program, said, ”You know what feels great about this? We still haven’t been renewed. So CBS, are you watching? We’re still waiting.”

And ”Sopranos” producer David Chase tantalized the audience with a list of next season’s costars, which included Polly Bergen, Tim Daly, Steve Buscemi, Frankie Valli, David Lee Roth, Bernie Brillstein, Patti D’Arbanville, and… Charles Barkley?

Later, double Emmy winner Jon Stewart promised some (less-than-serious) changes to ”The Daily Show”: ”I’m gonna wear a military jacket! And we’re gonna introduce a baby.”

In the end, even though the show was overlong and underfunny, Lopez deemed the evening a success. ”Screw ’em. It’s a tough crowd,” he said about the audience’s muted response. ”The Emmys is a good crowd whether they laugh or not,” he corrected. ”The comedy club in El Paso — that’s a bad room.” We’ll have to take his word for it.

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