Trying to upstage the Golden Globes, the first American Film Institute awards fail to shine.

The holidays may be weeks past, but CBS is still serving turkey. The inaugural AFI Awards for movies and TV, broadcast live from the Beverly Hills Hotel on Jan. 5, was about as unappealing to nominees (few bothered to show) as to viewers (with a TV audience of a paltry 5.5 million). Perhaps most damning, even the catwalk quality typical of awards shows fell flat: ”I didn’t put any effort into this one at all,” admitted Malcolm in the Middle mom Jane Kaczmarek, wearing basic black as she lost best TV actress to The Sopranos’ Edie Falco. ”I just wore something I had in my closet.”

Only 4 of the winners in the 15 individual achievement categories attended the subdued ceremony — including Falco and best film actress Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom), who weren’t prompted to keep their speeches short. ”This film is so close to my heart,” said Spacek gamely. ”It was a real labor of love, I think, for all of those who worked on it.” Lord of the Rings stars Elijah Wood and Sean Astin also were on hand to pick up the movie’s statuette for best film.

Absent winners included Denzel Washington (Training Day), Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), and Falco’s costar James Gandolfini. Why all the missing stars? ”It’s hard to fly someone in to L.A. when you have to fly them back two weeks later for the Golden Globes,” said one no-show’s publicist.

”Sure, I would have liked to have seen bigger numbers and more stars show up,” says CBS senior VP of specials Jack Sussman, ”but it was Year One, and hopefully we’re building something.” Sussman declines to speculate on the show’s future, though he notes the network has had a successful partnership with AFI on recent highly rated 100 Years specials. He resists comparisons to another awards start-up — the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which ran for three years on NBC before being relegated to the TNT cable net in 1998. ”It tried to get itself going, but didn’t make it,” says Sussman.

Despite a lackluster debut, in some sense the AFIs succeeded in kicking off this year’s round of awards. ”It does seem like we’re in the middle of play-off season,” said Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard. And some even voiced a preference for the AFIs. ”We’re here because we weren’t nominated for Golden Globes,” griped Ray Romano, who attended with Everybody Loves Raymond costar Doris Roberts. ”You won’t see us there.”