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Emmys backstage: Piven, Fey, Probst, more!

EW.com was there as Jeremy Piven, Tina Fey, Jeff Probst, and all the winners met the press

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Jeremy Piven, Primetime Emmy Awards 2008
Steve Granitz/WireImage

It was a quiet night backstage at the 60th Annual Emmy Awards. Many winners (Dianne Wiest, Tom Wilkinson) simply didn’t attend the ceremony, while others (Jon Stewart, Tina Fey, the Man Men crew) were escorted back to their seats in anticipation of other categories in which they were nominated, coming to the general press tent behind the Nokia Theatre only after the show had ended. Still, there managed to be plenty of notable moments in the press area, including in-depth examinations into why Sarah Palin remained a popular topic of conversation during the evening, the power of Jeff Probst’s dimples, and why three-time winner Tina Fey was having a surprisingly bad night.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ari Gold
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy winner Jeremy Piven (Entourage) said his third win ”was more shocking than the first two” — which probably means he hasn’t really followed the Emmy Awards all that much. Although he could have just been reeling still from the bizarre opening of the show. ”I thought we were being punk’d as an audience,” Piven said earnestly. ”There was this really great line about Sarah Palin’s bridge to nowhere, but it was confusing.” Less confusing were Piven’s feelings about the question whether he would ever be considered for a leading actor award instead of a supporting actor. His answer at first was standard PR non-speak — well, it would be nice, and Ari Gold certain is becoming more front-and-center, so who knows, you’d have to ask HBO about that — but then, suddenly, Piven cracked, ”In other words, you want to say, ‘Step it up, f— face.’ Is that what you want to say to me?”

Sympathy for Samantha
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy winner Jean Smart took time to continue her praise of Samantha Who? cast mate Christina Applegate. ”I’ve never seen an actress so beloved by a cast and crew as Christina, and that was before she came upon some tough times,” said Smart, referring to Applegate’s recent battle with cancer. ”I was shocked when she told me, and I started to cry a little bit.”

Hey, Best Comedy Director winner Barry Sonnenfeld…
…why did you have to watch your mouth during your acceptance speech? ”I would have started by talking about my penis,” said the Pushing Daisies helmer. Ah. Good point.

And the winner of the Stewart-Colbert Funny-Off is…
Stephen Colbert, hands down. Best Variety, Music, or Comedy Series winner Jon Stewart was, frankly, surprisingly unfunny, greeting questions like Why are politics and comedy synonymous? with a slight scowl and no humor. (Well, okay, he did crack a smile at one point, muttering, ”It’s been a long f—ing night, hasn’t it, people?”) Colbert, by contrast, joked that he wasn’t happy with The Daily Show taking the series award (while his show took the writing Emmy): ”Even when I worked for [Stewart], I did not wish him well.” Colbert went on to explain that of course he was happy for Stewart, since they see their two shows as ”two flavors of the same DNA.” A reporter piped up: ”Like Entertainment Tonight and The Insider!” Colbert grinned. ”It’s exactly like ET and Insider. We talk about that all the time.” And whereas Stewart punted by answering that Tina Fey, hot off her send-up of Sarah Palin, should also play Barack Obama, Colbert had some novel suggestions for who should play the Republican ticket. ”Don Rickles would play McCain,” Colbert said. ”[And] maybe me for Sarah Palin, because I also have absolutely no business being vice president.”

NEXT PAGE: Sarah Palin, Bryan Cranston, and Jeff Probst’s dimples

Hail the dark horse
No one was more surprised by his win for Best Actor in a Drama than Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston. ”I thought I was the dark horse,” Cranston said. ”Breaking Bad had only seven episodes to air….I’m thrilled really more for the show. We’re on a small network [AMC], and not a lot of people know about us yet.” His bald head, Cranston explained, is due to his character’s treatment for cancer. ”I was late getting here,” he joked, ”but I won’t leave the house until the hair is perfect.”

The pen vs. the sword
What was Kirk Ellis, winner for Writing for a Miniseries or TV Movie (John Adams), planning on saying about articulate politicians before he got cut off? ”The word was primary [for the Founding Fathers]. They believed the word over the sword, and the word could change the world. We have to listen to a lot of bloviating from pundits on television about whether words matter….Of course words matter. We have to listen to what people say.” Ellis was clearly still steamed he’d not had the chance to say so in his speech. ”When I stood up there and opened my mouth, they were already flashing, ‘Wrap it up.’ I find it interesting that we can spend 30 minutes for reality show hosts but no time for the people who actually create the work.”

Jeff Probst has amazing dimples
Seriously, they’re, like, engineering feats, those dimples. All the Survivor host and winner of the first ever Best Reality Host Emmy had to do was flash those bottomless caverns of adorableness, and all was forgiven with the backstage press for his hosting job, along with fellow nominees Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Tom Bergeron. ”It’s hard to know when you’re in the middle of it how it’s going,” Probst dimpled, er, said. ”We knew it’s going to be tough going in. Every time we had one idea, one or two people didn’t like it. So that’s why we had nothing [for our opening]. I don’t know whether it worked or not — according to Jeremy Piven, it didn’t.”

Basic cable still can’t get no respect
It was a big night for basic cable, with historic wins for FX and AMC especially. But according to Matthew Weiner, holding Emmys for writing and drama series for AMC’s Mad Men, there’s still a bit of an uphill battle for those networks in the eyes of the Academy. ”I’m surprised there’s such a segregated caste system at the Emmys,” Weiner noted. ”We have an amazing cast, and none of them were asked to present tonight. Most of these networks are all owned by giant conglomerates. I don’t know why there’s a distinction. We’re just happy to win and get noticed by our fellow artists.”

Of Sarah Palin, private lives, and missing purses
30 Rock had a great night at the Emmys — Best Writing, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Comedy — but by the time multiple winner Tina Fey made it to the press tent, it was clear her night had taken an unfortunate turn. Before questions even started, Fey announced, ”If anyone’s seen my purse, I left it on my seat.” Then she fielded several questions about her portrayal of GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Fey made her feelings clear about it: ”I want to be done playing this lady November 5th….My kid saw Sarah Palin on TV and said, ‘That’s mommy.”’ As Fey talked, her 30 Rock costar Judah Friedlander took cell-phone pics with winner Alec Baldwin. Costar Jack McBrayer broke in with his assessment of upcoming guest star Jennifer Aniston: ”She’s super nice — really ugly in person. A dowg.” Baldwin deftly dodged a question about his recent interview with Diane Sawyer regarding his headline-grabbing personal life, noting with a wry smile, ”When I can answer a question about my private life through the prism of promoting our show, I’ll call you.” And, finally, as the cast left the dais, Fey paused for one last, unfinished plea: ”If anyone sees a small purple purse, with an iPhone in it, with a picture of a naked toddler….”