We sound off on Ryan Seacrest, surprise winners, and more

By Lynette Rice
October 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Emmys are always good for a few shockers. (C’mon, show of hands who had Ricky Gervais in their pool?) But when presenters Jimmy Smits and Kate Walsh opened the best-actor-in-a-drama envelope and read the name ”James,” it seemed almost too obvious. A few members of The Sopranos contingent even burst into applause and rose from their seats — prematurely, it would turn out… For the last name was not ”Gandolfini” but ”Spader.” As in James Spader. Cradling his trophy at a Beverly Hills after-party a few hours later, the Boston Legal star admitted, ”Yes, I was surprised.”

As were we all. In fact, surprising is the best word to describe the 2007 Emmys. From surprising wins (Spader, Extras‘ Gervais, 30 Rock) to surprising outfits (why exactly was host Ryan Seacrest dressed like a Tudor, again?) to perhaps the most surprising move of all: the decision to transform L.A.’s sedate Shrine Auditorium into a theater-in-the-round. Though executive producer Ken Ehrlich hoped the staging would create a feeling of ”community,” it ended up being a downer for winners like Ugly Betty ‘s America Ferrera, who was forced to turn her back on fellow cast members while accepting her first Emmy. ”I wasn’t a fan of the seating,” she told EW later.

Equally awkward and confusing was Fox’s seemingly random practice of censorship. Though an animated opening song by Family Guy‘s Stewie and Brian reflected Fox’s racier sensibility (e.g., describing Two and a Half Men as a show about a ”little boy who lives with Charlie Sheen”), the network was quick to yank the cameras and sound away from non-Fox-sanctioned edginess: Ray Romano was silenced while joking that ”Frasier is screwing my wife,” and best-actress-in-a-drama winner Sally Field got the mute button when referring to ”goddamn wars.” But Brad Garrett, star of Fox’s ‘Til Death, got away with a raunchy joke about appearing with costar Joely Fisher in a Western titled ”Bury My Head Between Your Knees,” and his lascivious comments about Fisher’s breasts (”Note to self: Buy milk”) were inexplicably left in. ”That they bleeped Field is a travesty,” Garrett fumed later. ”We’re adults!” In a statement released Monday, Fox explained that ”some language during the live broadcast may have been considered inappropriate by some viewers. As a result, Fox’s broadcast standards executives determined it appropriate to drop sound (and picture) during those portions.”

Despite the controversy, viewers were far from titillated. With an audience of 13 million, Sunday’s telecast will go down as the ceremony’s least-watched Emmy show since 1990. It’s too bad, as the wayward viewers missed deserving winners in the acting categories, like Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn (best supporting actor in a drama) and My Name Is Earl‘s Jaime Pressly (best supporting actress in a comedy), who was still processing her big moment at the Governors Ball: ”I’ve been in the business for 13 years, and to be finally standing on stage to accept the award…it’s an emotional thing.” Grey’s Anatomy‘s Katherine Heigl (best supporting actress in a drama) was equally emotional about her first Emmy, though she was just as worked up about her mom’s lack of belief in her chances. Heigl’s mom, Nancy, defended herself after the ceremony: ”I didn’t bet against her! I just said she didn’t have a shot in hell.” At least presenters Eva Longoria and Kevin Connolly said Heigl’s name right after an announcer mangled it earlier in the show. ”This is the Emmys!” sniped the actress to EW at the Governors Ball. ”This is one time it’d be awesome if they actually pronounced it properly.”

Others were not even expecting to hear their name at all. Tracy Morgan said he was starting to believe that 30 Rock would leave empty-handed when Gervais beat out Alec Baldwin and The Office prevailed in the comedy writing category. But after pulling an upset win in the best-comedy category, Morgan was free to boast, ”We are the funniest show on the air right now!” Added a visibly relieved Lorne Michaels, one of the show’s exec producers, ”It was difficult at the start of the season, having to read comparisons between 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which was doubly complicated for me since [Studio 60] was, allegedly, my life. But talent always prevails.” Though Sopranos creator David Chase was humbled by the standing ovation the ensemble received after a tribute by Broadway’s Jersey Boys, he still felt his shut-out cast got robbed considering the work they did in the show’s final year. ”I was horribly disappointed for James, Edie, Michael, Aida, and Lorraine. All of them should have won.” (A bit tricky, seeing as how Aida Turturro and Lorraine Bracco were competing in the same category, but we digress.) Fortunately, the Mob phenom got the last laugh when it was named the best drama. ”We weren’t winning a lot of awards, but we got to go up on stage twice,” said star Michael Imperioli at the HBO after-party. ”Everybody wanted to feel like they were going out on top, so in that sense it was good.” In the end, at least, both James and James were winners after all. With additional reporting by Ari Karpel, Whitney Pastorek, Dan Snierson, Katherine Tulick, and Alynda Wheat