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Behind the scenes at the Emmy Awards

EW.com is there as James Gandolfini tells stories, Rob Lowe evens the score, and Michael J. Fox plugs in

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Sopranos: Nelson Machin

Okay, so the most exciting part of Sunday night’s 52nd annual Emmy Awards was Geena Davis’ unseemly see through dress. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of surprises behind the scenes as Michael J. Fox, James Gandolfini, Sela Ward, and the rest of the evening’s winners took an opportunity to say all the things they couldn’t squeeze in under the acceptance time limit. Here’s EW.com’s breakdown of the best, the worst, and the weirdest of the Emmys.

BEST TRIBUTE Best Actor winner James Gandolfini remembered his late ”Sopranos” costar Nancy Marchand by recalling his first encounter with the esteemed actress, who died June 18 at the age of 71. ”The first day at work she came in, and I was a little in awe of her,” he said. ”She walks up to her mark, looks at me, and says, ‘What the f— is that line?’ So I knew we’d get along fine. Very classy, wonderful lady, but, you know, she’d been around.”

BEST TRUMP CARD Since both ”The Sopranos” and ”The West Wing” received 18 Emmy nominations, ”Wing” star Rob Lowe devised a plan of attack in case the Mafia hitman hit cleaned the presidential clock in total wins. ”We discussed that if ‘The Sopranos’ won, I was going to ask the President to audit the cast,” he joked. ”But that was the only thing we talked about.” He had nothing to worry about. ”Wing” took home nine awards to ”The Sopranos”’ one.

GOOFIEST ACCEPTANCE SPEECH ”The West Wing”’s Allison Janney readily admitted she expected Marchand to win Best Supporting Actress, but that still doesn’t account for her discombobulated speech. ”I had to look at that moment over and over again because ‘Entertainment Tonight’ thought it was pretty funny, so they showed it to me,” the actress groaned. ”First I looked like I was doing the worst double take ever, and then I looked like I was going to throw up. I had prepared something, which turned out not the way I intended it to come out.” Aaron Sorkin, next time please give the poor gal a script.

BEST ONE-LINER Hand it to ”Will & Grace” producer Max Mutchnick for adding some much needed zing to the overlong program. When the openly gay exec declared the Emmy to be the ”one girl I’d like to sleep with,” he gave the audience their sole opportunity to cut through the schmaltz with a good old fashioned belly laugh. Michael J. Fox came in a close second for the pithy conclusion to his own heartfelt Best Actor speech. By encouraging the audience to ”stay tuned,” the exiting ”Spin City” star, who has battled Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade, ended on a hopeful note yet managed to sidestep the usual awards show sap. Better yet, there’s good reason to keep a watchful eye — the actor said he plans to make guest appearances on the show as soon as his replacement, Charlie Sheen, has settled in.

HOTTEST FASHION TREND Forget Versace. The real must have this year was the little yellow solidarity ribbon many in the audience clipped on in support of the ongoing Screen Actors Guild commercials contract strike, now in its fifth month. ”Once and Again” best actress winner Sela Ward, who moaned that she accidentally left hers at home, said she’s chomping at the bit to get back to work on her Sprint commercials when the strike ends. Proud ribbon wearer Richard Schiff (”The West Wing”) condemned the advertising agencies SAG is picketing as ”kind of sad and greedy.” And Charles Dutton, who took home a trophy for directing the HBO miniseries ”The Corner,” growled, ”I’d like to say that all of the athletes and politicians who cross the picket lines and are scabs should be kicked in their respective you know whats.” Hear that, Shaquille?

MOST COMMITTED WEB SURFER The ever practical Michael J. Fox was more worried about winning an online auction than taking home an Emmy. ”Can somebody check eBay and see if I got the lamps?” he asked a group of plugged in journalists. ”Seriously, I’m up for these two roly poly nautical lamps, and the auction’s gonna run out while I’m here.” One small step for the Internet, one giant step backward for the Pottery Barn.

SUREST SIGN THAT ‘SURVIVOR’ IS OVER The lame ”host off” parody that opened the awards proved that, yes, there really is a limit to how many feeble island jokes a nation can stand. Even worse was the disappointing series serenade sung and written by ”Whose Line Is It Anyway?”’s Wayne Brady, who muddled through the same tepid ”Richard the Naked Guy” jokes David Letterman’s been milking for months. Can somebody please extinguish the show writers’ torches once and for all?

LEAST IMPRESSED WINNERS The producers of ”The Late Show With David Letterman” readily acknowledged that winning an Emmy wasn’t going to make their lives any easier. Producer Maria Pope said the award isn’t likely to lure George W. Bush onto the show, a booking Letterman’s been begging for for months. ”Oh yeah, when [Bush] sees the Emmy he’s going to suddenly say ‘Yes’?” she snorted. ”No, I don’t think this is going to help at all.” Executive producer Rob Burnett joked, ”But we will be able to book Tony Randall now.”

BEST UNRESOLVED CONFLICT The evening took a serious turn as people debated whether or not the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild will decide to strike when their contracts expire next June. ”West Wing” producer John Wells, who is also the president of the WGA, has his fingers crossed. ”Everyone’s really stated what they need and what we hope to have happen in the negotiations,” he said. ”While there’s been a lot of saber rattling and drum beating, I’m not convinced there’s going to be a strike.” But if there is, don’t look for ”Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin to churn out scripts prior to the strike to help the show over the hump. ”We expect studios to ask us to write episodes to store up their fruits and berries for the winter, but of course we can’t do it,” Sorkin said. ”We can’t make it easier for them to stay away from the negotiating table.” ”Will & Grace” star Eric McCormack was less steadfast. ”Yes, if we have to stockpile, I imagine we will,” he shrugged.

BEST BEANS SPILLED A few winners dished the dirt on what we can expect on the tube this fall. ”West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin said the show’s two-part season debut on Oct. 4 will consist of flashbacks revealing how the key players landed their Oval Office gigs, while the third episode will follow a midterm congressional election. ”Malcolm in the Middle” writer Linwood Boomer revealed that this season everyone’s favorite dysfunctional family will take a vacation that ends up on an artillery range, Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) will be held up at gunpoint, and an episode will be devoted to, uh, clown beating. ”Everyone in the world hates clowns,” said Boomer. ”The conspiracy that people do not really hate circus clowns is bigger than the Kennedy assassination. So we’re ripping the lid off because we like to deal with the issues that really matter to people.”