August 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBCAs I arrived at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles for the 2010 Emmy Awards, the first thing I saw stepping out of the car was Dr. Horrible. There he was, bigger than life, soundlessly sermonizing above the Emmys red carpet on one of the several dozen jumbo-screens populating the L.A. Live complex that plays home to the Nokia. The moment turned out not to be a fortuitous prognostication of Neil Patrick Harris’ Emmy fortunes; it was simply part of a replay of last year’s Emmys, when Dr. Horrible (NPH) and Capt. Hammer (Nathan Fillion) did a little sketch on the emergence of web-only content. But it was a welcome sight anyhow, and presaged a (mostly) enjoyable Emmys evening inside the Nokia. The immense, cavernous, two-humpback-whales-could-fit-inside-of-it-comfortably-and-still-have-enough-room-for-a-small-fleet-of-school-buses Nokia.

The Nokia is so gargantuan, in fact, that this on-the-scene, what-you-didn’t-see-on-TV recap simply won’t be quite as detail-drenched as our American Idol on-the-scene recaps in the spring. Even the Idol finale at the Nokia nets more juicy detail for the simple fact that the judges are on a raised platform and a semi-conscious monkey could make them out with no difficulty. But despite the fact that even my most excellent seat in the Orchestra section of the Nokia (row BB!) still put me a good 12 parsecs away from the stage and all the commingling A-listers in the front rows, I’ve still gots a heaping helping of fun/revealing/foolish on-the-scenery for you to chew on.

When I arrived, the red carpet was just starting to rev into full gear. Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni had barely set foot out of their limo when an officious PA whisked them over to the NBC pre-show, pre-entrance interview booth. Once past security and the helpful platoon of people handing out free Vitamin Water Zero, we slowly inched our way along the hoi polloi section of the red carpet, well behind all the famous folks talking to the fine people inside the E!, Entertainment Tonight, TV Guide Channel, NBC, Access Hollywood, Extra, and The Insider HD interview tents. Interspersed were the non-interview-tented media, like EW’s own Michael Ausiello, left to pleasantly cook under the perfect southern California sun. After passing the media tent for The Insider HD (because you know you’re truly on the inside of wherever you are when you can make out a person’s pores), the red carpet for the non-famous made a left for the theater entrance, while the famous kept moving forward for a date with the paparazzi and what appeared to be yet another E! interview tent.

Before entering the theater, the finely-dressed masses were greeted with another platoon of Vitamin Water Zero pushers, and I really wish I’d acquiesced to them, since upon stepping foot inside the Nokia at 4:07 p.m. (Pacific time), I learned that the lobby bars closed promptly at 4 p.m., and would not open again until 5:30 p.m., and then only for non-alcoholic beverages. So I was left to simply take in the second-and-third tier stars rapidly populating the first floor Nokia lobby. (The truly famous entered the theater guarded from view by a lobby length partition.) There’s Matt Crunchy Czuchry from The Good Wife! Ooo, and I see Mad Men’s Jared Harris! It’s J.D. Lutz from 30 Rock, and Kate Flannery from The Office! I’m not exactly sure why Doctor Who’s David Tennant is here, but I’m not complaining!

Finally, it was time to enter the Nokia and find my seat in the orchestra. It entailed a supersonic jet and a series of camel caravans, but eventually I made it. At which point I was treated to the odd bit of meta-theater of watching Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba sitting eight rows in front of me, watching herself in the NBC Emmys pre-show on an HD video-screen the size of my apartment. Later on, Wanda Sykes and Julie Bowen got to watch their pre-show encounters with the Maria Menounos Awkward Machine 2010™ on the aforementioned jumbo-screen as it was happening live. Those poor women, bearing witness to their embarrassment in real time.

With less than 10 minutes to go, telecast honcho Don Mischer walked on stage to discuss a few quick orders of business: 1) Everyone in the aisles needed to “settle.” 2) Host Jimmy Fallon “worked tirelessly” to put on a great show. 3) Unlike the Grammys (which hands out nine awards during its primetime broadcast), and the Tonys (which hands out 14 awards), the Emmy Awards had a whopping 27 awards to hand out, and only two-and-change hours of non-commercial programming time to do it. So 4) keep your acceptance speech super-short (and to sweeten the deal, if you do, we may re-open the bar later in the evening), and 5) if you’re part of a winning group, only one person is designated to speak on behalf of everyone, and when that person is done talking, the conductor will strike up the band to play you off. Had I known what was to come, I would’ve scanned the audience for Mad Man creator Matthew Weiner to gauge his basic comprehension of these rules.

With just a few brief minutes before airtime, the Nokia was swarming with thousands of tuxedos and gowns, and I began to wonder if the theater would qualify as a really classy tiny independent nation in Europe. As everyone moved to their seats, we were forced to watch (and at the very least listen to) Billy Bush and a woman whose name escaped me go through their best and worst dressed lists, which meant it was entirely likely that January Jones and Anna Paquin suffered the indignity of hearing their unfortunate fashion sense excoriated before they’d even had a chance to sit down. Showbiz! (And you just know the MMAM 2010™ was frantically scouring the audience to capture their reactions.)

Finally, the show began. At the conclusion of The Best Opening Number Of The Emmys Ever, Jorge Garcia gave Jon Hamm an emphatic low ten (you know, as opposed to a high five) before both men dramatically raced off stage, which was like the coolness cherry on top of a triple scoop sundae of awesome. After introducing the comedy portion of the evening with Amy Poehler, host Jimmy Fallon shook her husband Will Arnett’s hand and then sprinted backstage. Fizbo Eric Stonestreet won best supporting actor in a comedy, and afterwards Modern Family exec producer Steven Levitan walked down the aisle to give a consolation hug to Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell. (Note: You’re going to notice a lot of info about Modern Family and Lost in this recap, and that’s because those shows were all seated nearest to me. And by “nearest,” I mean, “not requiring opera glasses to see them.”)

The multiple, lengthy ad breaks during the show were leavened mostly by a series of Emmy highlight reels playing on the ultra-mega-screens on either side of the stage, like the clips of acceptance speeches from Holland Taylor and Jon Cryer that greeted our first ad break. As they played, Stonestreet returned to his seat, but not before passing out a bevy of hugs to seemingly everyone in the Modern Family cast. When Levitan won for writing the show’s pilot, Stonestreet kept eagerly looking back at his wife to see her reaction to her husband’s jokes about her. Jane Lynch won, kissed her wife, and fellow nominee Chris Colfer was the first among his cast to stand and applaud her.

After our second ad break, Lost exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof slowly walked up the aisle and back to the lobby, Cuse (as per usual) wearing a bemused grin, Lindelof looking like he was maybe three categories away from throwing up. The rest of the Lost contingent mingled with crew from their fellow ABC show Modern Family, while the band rocked out to what sounded like the music from a rock-em-sock-em 1970s cop show that I would be able to pinpoint if I was Quentin Tarantino.

When Ryan Murphy won for directing the Glee pilot, I realized that the Glee cast had been split between the first string (the four acting nominees, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Ryan Murphy) sitting in the middle of the audience, and the second string (pretty much everyone else) segregated on the far, far, far stage right section of the audience. If I was Murphy, I would currently be madly typing away at a script based on this very event, which obviously puts the very existence of glee club in doubt! I would also somehow work in a cultural reference to the revelation from the subsequent Emmy-highlight-reel ad break, which featured speeches from Norman Lear, Ray Walston, John Larroquette, and, wait, did that woman just say she created the comic strip Cathy? Wait, Cathy Guisewite won an Emmy?!

After NPH got in his dig at Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy looked like he was about to throw back a retort before deciding to walk off the stage. Top Chef won for Best Reality Competition show, and their contingent became so overwhelmed by breaking The Amazing Race’s stranglehold on the category that one woman just started screaming like a banshee while holding up her purse with one hand and her cell phone to her ear with the other hand. Afterwards, with the one reality category announced, it felt like whole rows of reality show nominees and their respective dates and guests made for the lobby, as the rest of us watched Lucille Ball scramble to read the winning envelope without her glasses. (It was The Mary Tyler Moore Show.)

The drama section commenced. Aaron Paul’s surprise win for his work on Breaking Bad introduced the Nokia to the raucous group from that show sitting as far to the left of the Nokia as the Glee second-stringers were to its right. As Paul walked off stage left, he passed by his compatriots with both arms in the air, and they responded with an arena rally cheer that actually managed to carry all the way across the theater. During the ad break, J.J. Abrams walked down the aisle, his head blankly nodding along, seemingly oblivious to Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin loud gesticulations right behind him. Bad Robot impresario Bryan Burk pulled Damon Lindelof in a big, consoling hug, and the light from two dozen flashbulbs surrounding the Breaking Bad section of the audience finally reached my seat.

Jimmy Fallon’s Twitter intros bombed again; Archie Panjabi’s win for best supporting actress caused the Nokia to fall into what I can only assume was a who-is-this-actress-again? hush; we watched Kirstie Alley and Burt Reynolds brag about getting “big one(s)” from their respective (and now ex) spouses during the ad break; and the Emmy crew wheeled out a white grand piano during the introduction of the Best Guest Actor in a Drama winners.

In case you were wondering, no, Jimmy wasn’t actually playing that piano during his farewell song to 24, and yes, the Lost peeps did have a visible reaction to Jimmy’s gentle lyrical tease about not quite understanding the show’s finale. But as it was becoming increasingly clear that Lost was headed to goose egg city, that reaction — from director Jack Bender, Abrams, Lindelof, Burk, even the unflappably affable Cuse — was one of uniform stone faces and crumpled postures. Save Abrams, they all slowly decamped for the lobby as the crew wiped away Fallon’s tribute to Law & Order and the Top Chef folks finally returned to their seats.

Kyra Sedgwick won for Best Actress in a Drama, and unlike most of the audience, the dude sitting in front of me got really, super excited. In fact, thanks to the show’s unadvised decision to spend its final hour on handing out variety and movie/miniseries trophies, excitement was in short supply. The rest of the evening would’ve been a bit of a snooze, actually, if not for the presence of Ricky Gervais and Temple Grandin. The former has become a reliable booster shot to the Emmy proceedings, even unintentionally so, after a camera crew almost collided with one of the waiters carrying trays of bottled beer. (After this segment, my mother texted this to me: “This is a very fun show. I hope you are getting a beer.”) And as for Grandin, watching her repeatedly stand up and wave to the Nokia was just a delight, and made its sweep of all its categories much less of a bore to sit through. (I’m not saying it was undeserved; just that awards show sweeps are generally monotonous events. How many times did we need to hear that Claire Danes is a vision of acting splendiferousness beyond the scope of mere mortal comprehension?)

Otherwise, Jewel’s mournful In Memoriam song helped put a hush on the evening’s energy until the final categories. (The sight of wee Gary Coleman presenting with superdog Benji in an ad break Emmy highlight clip was a remarkably sad sight indeed.) When Mad Men took its third Best Drama trophy, a few people sitting in the back of the theater mounted landspeeders to make it up the aisle to join everyone on stage. Afterwards, an announcer told the audience that those with tickets to the Governor’s Ball should exit at the stage right door, while everyone else was to leave in the lobby of the theater. (Remember this fact for two paragraphs from now.)

In a touching moment of good sportsmanship, the second-stringers from Glee all stood up to applaud Modern Family’s win for Best Comedy, along with the folks from Lost. After Jimmy Fallon sprayed the stage with bubbly, the Modern Family cast and producer/writers all peppered each other with hugs. Eric Stonestreet escorted Sofia Vergaragagaga down the stage steps, and NPH randomly (and adorably) raced up the steps to give Ed O’Neill a hug.

As I did not have Governors Ball tickets, I began moving back towards the lobby. Any lingering jealousy I may have had for those who got a ticket to the big ball evaporated when I looked back at the sight of an ocean of people trying to inch their way through a single stage door. Some of them may still be there now.

Instead, I headed out to the limo call back table, and waited patiently as a long stream of black cars arrived. Castle‘s Nathan Fillion posed for photos. Sam Trammell from True Blood stared into the middle distance. And Susan Sarandon pulled out into the night, her window rolled down just enough to give those standing on the sidewalk a glimpse of her still otherworldly beauty.

Such were my four-and-a-half hours at the 2010 Emmy Awards, P-Dubs. Were you happy with the show’s outcome? Did you think anyone was robbed? And if you were there, would you have left for the (non-alcoholic) lobby bar at any point?

Read more:

Lunchtime poll: Fred Savage is dead. Long live Fred Savage!

‘Temple Grandin’ wins big at Emmys. But who is she?

2010 Emmy Awards: ‘Modern Family’ triumphs, ‘Mad Men’ wins again

Emmys: 14 Memorable Moments

Emmys 2010: Best/Worst Style

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