Jon Stewart: Reed Saxon/AP
September 20, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

This year’s Emmy Awards, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, were full of surprises. (Arrested Development? James Spader? Who knew?) The stars’ press-conference commentary backstage was equally unpredictable. was there to hear the good and the bad from the beautifully dressed.

Though the show almost ended on time, don’t thank Garry Shandling. Backstage, the enthusiastic host said, ”I’m ready to present another ten awards. I think we should turn it into an ABC pledge. What’s the rush? What’s going on afterwards that they have to end the show?” But Shandling didn’t merely want more face time for himself. ”I think it’s awkward when they play people off. It’s very disorienting for a lot of people to be onstage and get all the names right. It’s difficult to imagine until you’re there.”

Shandling can feel the pain of supporting-actor winner Michael Imperioli, who was played off when his speech went long. Apparently, the Sopranos star (who won for the first time after three nominations) was caught up in the moment. ”I don’t think I even remember much of it,” he said, ”so don’t hold me responsible for anything I did or didn’t say.” While he gave some of the credit for his win to his costar and fellow Emmy winner Drea de Matteo, he admitted he had yet to see her post-Sopranos sitcom, Joey, quickly adding, ”I think she’s really funny, so it would not surprise me if she’s fantastic on the show.”

Supporting-actress winner de Matteo said she was elated by Imperioli’s win: ”I was more excited about [him] than me.” Actually, the Sopranos actress, who says she becomes painfully anxious when it comes to public speaking, was rooting against herself. ”I was praying I was not gonna win,” she said. ”Being nominated was a big enough honor, but going up there was the scariest moment of my whole life. I’m just so shy.” At least she doesn’t have to worry about a second win for her work on The Sopranos, since Adriana is gone for good. Sort of. ”I’m under a small contract with them, so if they want to use me they can,” she said. ”But I think she’s dead. Stevie [costar Steven Van Zandt] gave an interview saying, ‘Whaddya think I was doing back there, shooting squirrels?’ But I think she’s going to haunt them, because she was the innocent on the show and they killed her.” Clutching her award as she prepared to scurry off the stage, de Matteo joked, ”Can I go now and be nervous someplace else?”

Five-time Emmy loser Sarah Jessica Parker finally went home with a statuette, which was a ”nice” feeling for the Sex and the City star. ”I don’t know if it’s a relief so much,” she said, ”but I think you get very practiced at being a graceful loser, and it hasn’t been as awful as one might think.” Parker adamantly denied the rumors that there was tension between the four female stars of the series following Kim Cattrall’s decision to opt out of a movie version of the show: ”It can be frustrating when what we want is to celebrate this moment. I can only speak for myself, but I was happy to be among this cast I really loved knowing and really loved working with.” Her costar Cynthia Nixon, who won in the supporting-actress category, echoed Parker’s sentiments: ”It’s exciting for us to see any of the rest of us win.”

Jason Bateman and Portia de Rossi, whose newbie sitcom Arrested Development was an unexpected winner for comedy series, said they were happy to just be near an Emmy. ”Selfishly, I think we all as a cast are really happy to win,” said Bateman, ”because we get to keep doing a job that’s probably the best employment we’ve had in a long time. Or ever, in my case.” De Rossi praised the show as a cut above her previous series, Ally McBeal: ”I don’t think Ally was ever as crazy. On camera.” How crazy is the comedy’s dysfunctional Bluth family? Well, Bateman said, if they were at the Emmys, they’d ”all get drunk at the Governor’s Ball and get into a fiery car crash on the way home.”

Not everyone was in high spirits. Despite winning for outstanding dramatic series, Sopranos creator David Chase grumbled about the pressure he feels in creating the HBO hit. ”This is the only show where every episode gets reviewed the next day, Monday,” he sighed. ”You have to be in kind of a bubble where it doesn’t get to you, but that’s kind of impossible.” Edie Falco, who lost in the lead-actress category, also had a bone to pick. ”I don’t know if we really have to have these statues. On Tuesday, ask if anyone knows who the best drama winner is, and they won’t be able to tell you. I think it’s dangerous to put too much emphasis on these things.” Easy for her to say, after winning three times during past years.

Elaine Stritch, whose enthusiasm in accepting the award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for her one-woman show At Liberty became the butt of countless jokes by Shandling, was no less loquacious backstage. Explaining her breathless speech, she said, ”It’s the kind of adrenaline that’s a little bit scary. But it’s an honest feeling, and the relief is almost part of the award.” As for being a punch line for the evening, that was fine by her. ”I’m glad to be giving [Shandling] a little material,” she said. ”I think he’s truly funny.” The only bad thing about winning at age 79? ”I was scared to death when they said, ‘Hurry up and get on the stage.’ But I did it pretty quick. That’s from working out.”

Jon Stewart, whose satirical newscast, The Daily Show, took home the award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, admitted that current events haven’t always inspired laughter. ”We usually start our day sad and try to work it into happy,” he said. He also dismissed any suggestion that his show might affect the November elections: ”I think we’re kingmakers… I would not be surprised if in this election tens of people changed their votes. I do think people are quoting us, but as comedians, not Churchill.”

After dismissing rumors that he would consider taking over Craig Kilborn’s vacant spot on The Late Late Show, Stewart had something to say about Britney Spears’ nuptials earlier in the weekend. ”I wanted to let you guys know, who gives a f—?” he said. ”And I’m so sorry, because I know it’s gonna make the [TV news] ticker. It’ll be casualties in Fallujah, and then people will go, ‘Oh, Britney and Kevin tied the knot.’ And that’s depressing.”

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