Tim Stack
September 01, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

After all the hoopla and controversy surrounding the Emmys’ decision to change its voting procedures, the biggest surprise of the evening was…just how luminescent 60-year-old Jaclyn Smith looked. Oh, and apparently there are people who still watch Monk.

The night started anticlimactically as acting awards were handed to a trio of performers whose shows are long gone — Will & Grace‘s Megan Mullally, The West Wing‘s Alan Alda, and Huff‘s Blythe Danner. And aside from the best-series categories, the ceremony had all the excitement of a rerun. As Monk winner Tony Shalhoub said, picking up his third award for best actor in a comedy over favorite Steve Carell, ”There’s been a terrible mistake…” The ”mistake” may have proved costly for NBC as viewership sank nearly 14 percent from last year’s airing on CBS to 16.2 million viewers.

Even one of the night’s biggest winners, NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, sensed something was amiss. ”I think it was a very odd year,” says Reilly. ”There were noticeable absences. And yet, The Office winning is well deserved — you could feel it in the room.” The Office‘s win for Outstanding Comedy Series was a pleasant surprise, especially for the staff of Dundler Mifflin. ”This whole thing was like a fairy tale,” says star Jenna Fischer. ”Two years ago, we were just struggling to stay on the air.” Rainn Wilson was a little less humble: ”I think this means that we are the best show in the history of television,” joked the actor.

The folks behind 24, which scored the most wins for a series — five, including best drama and best actor for its star, Kiefer Sutherland — weren’t feeling that confident, at least not at first. ”When we didn’t win the first two acting awards, I started going, ‘Oh, this is all going horribly wrong,”’ says series co-creator Joel Surnow. ”But when Jon Cassar won for directing and then when Kiefer won, I thought, ‘If we don’t win, it’s going to be a cruel joke.”’ Sutherland’s evening turned out even more special since his father, Donald Sutherland, was in the audience. ”You hear your name, and it sucks the oxygen out of you,” says Sutherland. ”I walked up there and I looked over and I saw my dad, and I could breathe.” Best actress in a comedy winner Julia ”Curse This” Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine) had a similarly dramatic reaction when she took the stage. ”I was trying not to cry, and you know how that makes it worse,” says the actress. ”So, I was trying to remain composed and it was a big struggle. I was utterly surprised.” Speaking of surprises, My Name Is Earl walked away with an unexpected writing win for creator Greg Garcia, who delivered the funniest acceptance speech of the evening, thanking various people who had wronged him: ”God, I’m sure you’re responsible in some way, but you took my hair and that’s not cool, man, not cool.”

God was certainly not on ABC’s side — its top series, Desperate Housewives and Lost, were almost completely snubbed, and powerhouse Grey’s Anatomy left the Shrine Auditorium with only a single win (for casting), despite 11 nominations. One of the show’s stars, Katherine Heigl, was gracious enough to look beyond her own loss: ”I remember thinking that Edie Falco [who wasn’t nominated] did such a beautiful job this year on The Sopranos — that was just weird to me.” But even its competitors agreed the Alphabet network was shafted. ”Lost was the most obvious snub,” says CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler.

If the ageless Jaclyn Smith took the female MVP award of the evening, then her male counterpart was host Conan O’Brien. Whether mocking his own network’s falling fortunes, or threatening to kill Bob Newhart, O’Brien was a shot of comedic Red Bull, particularly during his opening sequence that included a song-and-dance number. Explains O’Brien: “I had that idea a couple months ago, of ‘Wait a minute, I can do the “Trouble” song about NBC’s schedule.’ And then I was thinking, ‘Oh, what if their schedule turns around in the meantime?’ Fortunately, it didn’t!” Despite the odd atmosphere and lackluster ratings, O’Brien left the show satisfied. “I looked at myself and said, ‘You’re doing a routine with Bob Newhart,'” says O’Brien. “I’m good now. I could get out of the business. I’m happy.”

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Armstrong, Whitney Pastorek, Lynette Rice, Adam B. Vary, and Alynda Wheat)


Conan O’Brien proves to be a humorous and classy Emmy emcee

Conan O’Brien’s turn as Emmy host was just about flawless, and all the more impressive for its range. He was impudent where it mattered (needling the Emmys for their dumb nomination omissions, and his own network for its ratings slippage), respectful when called for (his gag with Bob Newhart had a warm undercurrent of awe), and nutty in the manner we’ve come to expect (a full-on Music Man song parody with bite!).

Contending with mostly boring winner results, O’Brien never stooped to cheap improvised sniping, but instead towered over the oft-puny proceedings like the Jolly Red Giant he is. His performance proved he knows how to make down-the-middle, mainstream material seem like the funniest stuff a comedian can do, and that’s something even the now-reigning King of Hip Nighttime Hosting, Jon Stewart, can’t claim. —Ken Tucker

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