At first glance, the ceremony had all the trappings of a scene from ''La Dolce Vita.'' That is, if Fellini's masterpiece had taken place at the 1978 Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony. Under a crisp, cloudless sky in downtown Hollywood, a gaggle of TV stars on permanent hiatus came out of hiding for the inaugural TV Land Awards. And while nobody expected anything normal from the cheeky cable channel's first attempt at honoring its 24-hour slate of mostly reruns, it was hard to keep your jaw shut as a parade of real-life Madame Tussaud's figures filed into the John Ritter-hosted fete.
The pixilated pandemonium on the red carpet, for one, would have embarrassed Oscar. A procession of old-school hotties -- Cheryl Ladd! Mary Tyler Moore! Shirley Jones! -- emerged from their limos with a familiar deer-in-headlights twinkle in their eyes. Presenter Mira Sorvino twirled her black Versace mini as she geekily recited ''Star Trek'' catchphrases. And a lineup of pushy photographers screamed at...well, at Knots Landing vixens Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills, outfitted in '80s-influenced evening wear with shoulder pads and pleats.
''This is ridiculous,'' shrugged Christopher Knight (better known to this crowd as Peter Brady), after he waved to screaming fans in nearby bleachers. ''[The Brady Bunch] won't go away. It's much bigger than me. It has a heavier gravity than I do.''
The self-mockery only increased once the stars were hustled inside the Hollywood Palladium. ''Good evening. Welcome to ''Jurassic Park,'' '' quipped ''Get Smart's'' Don Adams, standing on stage beside a well-preserved Agent 99 (a.k.a. Barbara Feldon), thus unleashing a barrage of age jokes. During a salute to ''The Dick Van Dyke Show,'' creator and costar Carl Reiner said, ''This is probably the last award I'm ever going to get.'' Pillar of subtlety David Cassidy blurted out the question on everyone's mind: ''Have you noticed that everyone who's losing is dead?'' A glance to the left revealed Non-Traditional TV Family Award winner Bea Arthur, pursing her lips and shooting the icy glare that made Maude Findlay and Dorothy Zbornak her cathode-ray calling cards.
At the after-party, a house band played beloved theme songs while Barbara Billingsley gushed like a starstruck fan (''I had never met Stefanie Powers, and she's backstage, and she's just gorgeous'') and then -- as a nod (we hope) to her infamous role in Airplane! -- broke into jive talk, passing off a feisty ''Hang in there, blood!''
In the end, though, it was Arthur who, in pooh-poohing the show, succinctly captured its irreverent spirit: ''I don't think I should -- what's the new word these days? -- dis the night, but I had difficulty hearing. So I'm really looking forward to watching it at home.'' Guess she'll catch it in reruns.