Emmy broadcast enjoys slight ratings rise. The Conan O'Brien hosted ceremony improves on last year's numbers, though it was still less-watched than the 2000 version

During Sunday’s Emmy telecast on NBC, at about 8:50 ET, host Conan O’Brien approached a stack of TV sets and said he was going to switch them over to HBO’s ”The Sopranos” in 10 minutes. Later in the ceremony, in a taped segment, ”Curb Your Enthusiasm”’s Larry David griped that he shouldn’t have to describe his nominated sitcom for Emmy viewers when they could be watching it at that very moment on HBO. Maybe the folks at home took them at their word. According to early Nielsen estimates, ratings for the Emmy broadcast were up slightly from last year but still below those of two years ago.

According to Nielsen, this year’s show drew an average of 19.8 million viewers, with as many as 40 to 45 million watching at least some of the show. That’s an improvement on last year’s CBS telecast, which drew 17.2 million, but that show had been postponed twice in the wake of Sept. 11 and related events, and it ended up airing opposite Game 7 of the World Series. An average of 21.8 million watched the 2000 telecast on ABC. The O’Brien-hosted show was the third most-watched awards show of the year, after the Oscars (41.8 million) and the Golden Globes (23.5 million) and ahead of the Grammys (19 million).

Still, just because Conan brought the numbers up this year, don’t expect him to be asked back. The telecast rotates each year among the Big Four networks, and Fox will presumably want to use one of its own personalities as next year’s host. Note to Fox: How about Simon Cowell?