A sneak peek at Sunday's Emmy Awards show -- From Conan to Oprah (but no Uma), exec producer Gary Smith tells EW.com what to expect from the big ceremony

By Brian Hiatt
Updated September 20, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Let’s face it: When it comes to glitz, glamour, and, um, movie stars, the Emmys will never match the Oscars. But last year’s Sept. 11-delayed Emmy show was hailed as the most entertaining in years, with an energized, Björk-mocking Ellen DeGeneres serving as a surprisingly hip and hilarious host.

Will this year’s ceremony — which boasts a fresh crop of nominees, with the likes of ”ER” stepping aside for ”Six Feet Under” and ”The Shield” — be as much fun? Well, executive producer Gary Smith, who helmed the awards for the first time last year, is returning, and the host is ”Late Night”’s Conan O’Brien — so the odds aren’t bad. Here’s an advance look at the 54th Emmy Awards, which air Sunday night at 8 p.m. on NBC.

”Friends” and Neighbors Among the evening’s presenters will be the cast of ”Friends” (only three of whom — Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry — are nominated), as well as the team of Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey from ”Saturday Night Live” (she’s nominated for a writing prize; he’s nominated for nothing). Tom Hanks, whose ”Band of Brothers” is a nominee, will be on hand to give the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award to Oprah Winfrey. Also among the presenters: Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Garner, Marg Helgenberger, Gary Shandling, and host emeritus DeGeneres. By the way, unlike last year’s deglammed-for-9/11 ceremony, everybody will be in black-tie mode.

History Repeating The evening’s unofficial theme will be the history of television, says exec producer Smith. The Shrine Auditorium’s stage will be decorated with vintage TV cameras and microphones, as well as screens showing images from past shows (hopefully excluding ”Manimal”). Expect a tribute to an unjustly obscure name: Philo Farnsworth, who invented the boob tube 75 years ago in a San Francisco laboratory. Also expect a tribute to the late Milton ”Uncle Miltie” Berle — the medium’s first star. ”Conan loves television’s history,” says Smith.

Clip Show The Emmys will take a long-overdue cue from the Academy Awards: The ceremony will pause throughout to screen features on each of the 10 shows nominated for outstanding drama and comedy — just as the Oscars do for Best Picture nominees. ”Those major awards are always at the end of the show, so they end up getting short shrift,” says Smith. ”A quick mention, and then, ‘The winner is….’ This time, we’ll see the people who created the shows, see the stars, see some clips.”

Conan the Vulgarian Older viewers who don’t stay up past midnight to watch ”Late Night” will get an undiluted taste of O’Brien’s quirky humor on Sunday, Smith promises. ”I think Conan, just as Ellen was last year, is going to be a wonderful surprise to a lot of people. It’s his first opportunity on a grand scale to bring his particular style of humor to the [broader public],” he says. For his part, O’Brien recently told Entertainment Weekly that he’s not excessively thrilled about the gig: ”People think the Emmys are really exciting, but it’s just a high school assembly with better skin.”

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