By Tom O'Neil
Updated September 20, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Like a first-class schedule of prime-time viewing, the Emmy Awards ceremony has delivered a nice mix of comedy and drama over the years. From Valerie Harper’s hilarious tip of the hat to her analyst (during her 1975 acceptance speech for best comedy actress) to low-rated rookie cop show Hill Street Blues’ astounding 1981 best drama win, the ceremony has never been short on surprises. To prove our point, we’ve compiled 10 of the most head-turning happenings in Emmy history.

Lucy Crowns Mary

Lucille Ball’s appearance at the podium to present the prize for best comedy series of 1975 was marked by a mishap that would unnerve even the unflappable Mrs. Ricardo. ”Oh, I’m really in trouble!” gasped the 64-year-old star when she tried to read the winner’s name and realized she didn’t have her eyeglasses. Milton Berle jumped up from the audience and handed her a wineglass, saying ”Here, look through this!” Uncle Miltie eventually saved the day by fetching real glasses, which Lucy donned before trumpeting the news of the winner: first-timer The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That program would eventually reap 29 Emmys during its seven years on the air, more than any other series in the awards’ history.

The Show Must Go On

”It’s important for us to be here,” host Ellen DeGeneres told the Shubert Theatre audience last year when the Emmys were finally staged after two unprecedented postponements following the tragedy of 9/11. The unflustered DeGeneres came out swinging with edgy jokes (”Welcome to the 53rd, 54th, and 55th Emmy Awards”) and kitschy couture (a replica of Bjork’s swan outfit from the Oscars). She ended up presiding over one of the most inspirational Emmycasts ever. ”They can’t take away our creativity, our striving for excellence, our joy,” she said. ”Only network executives can do that.”

A New King of the Hill

”Oh, boy!” a shocked Daniel J. Travanti cried when he won best actor in a drama series for Hill Street Blues in 1981. It was an equally stunning moment for Emmy viewers. The previous year’s big winner, Lou Grant, was expected to sweep the drama categories again, but instead found itself topped by a gritty police drama that was ranked 87th among the 96 prime-time programs. Hill Street Blues’ record-breaking eight victories that night — including best drama series — helped the struggling new series stave off early cancellation. It remained on the air for six more seasons, eventually becoming the Emmys’ biggest champ among all dramas, with 26 awards.

Better Off Ted

After eight Emmy nods and no wins, Cheers star Ted Danson was none too happy when media wags called him ”the Susan Lucci of prime time.” He smiled good-naturedly, though, when costar Kirstie Alley ribbed him at the 1990 ceremony, likening his bad luck to that of a guy who takes a ”tease” to a drive-in movie. An hour later, Danson finally scored. When he won best comedy series actor, he vaulted up to the stage, and the audience leaped out of their seats as well. ”This is exactly what happened to me in the drive-in,” gasped an excited Danson. ”When I first got lucky, they all stood up and applauded.” Then he added somberly, ”I guess you’ll be saying ‘You’ve been robbed’ to some other boy. I’ll miss that.”

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