Emmys: 2008's Best/Worst Moments
MOST PAINFUL BANTER: THE INTRODUCTION
Remember just a few short months ago when the writers were on strike? Without writers, there'd be no quips like the classic lines of TV dialogue, doled out to various actors, that opened the show. Without writers, TV would look and sound like that unwatchably awkward confab of five reality hosts that marred the opening. ''We have absolutely nothing,'' Jeff Probst said as the superfluous quintet stammered awkwardly for several minutes. ''This is not a bit,'' confirmed Howie Mandel. Finally, in a move smacking of desperation, two men ripped off Heidi Klum's tuxedo to reveal a skimpy, sparkly getup underneath. As Entourage's Jeremy Piven, the evening's first winner, put it, ''What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes, what would happen?'' Now we know.
FUNNIEST MOCK OUTRAGE: RICKY GERVAIS AND STEVE CARELL
Presenter Ricky Gervais recalled his absence during his victory last year, when Steve Carell accepted the trophy on his behalf, then berated Carell, sitting in the front row, for not handing over the statuette. Carell sat stonefaced as Gervais upbraided him. ''I made you what you are, and I get nothing back,'' the Office creator told the star of the American version. ''I sat through Evan Almighty. Give me my Emmy.'' Finally, after Gervais started tickling him, Carell produced the trophy from under his seat. Can Gervais host next year, please?
BEST TRIBUTE TO 1968: TOMMY SMOTHERS' OVERDUE EMMY
Steve Martin, who got his start in TV as a writer for the Smothers Brothers' variety show, paid tribute to Tommy Smothers, who was awarded a comedy writing Emmy 40 years late. (CBS famously canceled the show for its overtly political content, and Smothers chose not to include his name on the writers list, Martin said, in order not to prejudice the Emmy voters.) Smothers, 71, dedicated his award to those who speak truth to power and refuse to be silenced. ''There's nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action,'' he said; clearly, time hasn't dimmed his firebrand outspokenness.
WORST TRIBUTE TO 1968: THE STARS OF LAUGH-IN
If you hadn't seen the original Laugh-In, with its rapid-fire gags and puns, you'd never know it had been a breakthrough in TV comedy, or that it had even been funny at all, judging by the creaky reunion of Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Jo Anne Worley, and other stars of the late-'60s series. Their timing was off, their punch lines were shrill and unfunny, and the whole thing looked ghoulish and ghastly. Still, Comedy/Variety Series winner Jon Stewart was gracious enough to thank the Laugh-In old-timers for inspiring him to get into comedy. Guess you had to be there.
WACKIEST TIME-WASTER: JOSH GROBAN'S THEME SONG MEDLEY
Channeling Bill Murray's old Saturday Night Live lounge lizard character, Groban sang snippets of about 30 familiar TV themes, including South Park (doing a surprisingly good Cartman imitation), The Andy Griffith Show (that song had words?), The Tonight Show (with Ed McMahon himself shouting, ''Here's Johnny!''), and M*A*S*H (with a line of chorus girls doing high kicks to ''Suicide Is Painless''). Groban's a unique talent, but this medley was just plain odd.
MOST AWKWARD PAIRING: DAVID BOREANAZ AND LAUREN CONRAD
The veteran actor, who's the leading man in Bones (and not ''The Bones,'' as Heidi Klum called it in her introduction), and the reality starlet of The Hills could barely make eye contact, let alone share a podium as they announced nominees for Guest Actor and Actress prizes and Best Comedy Writing. Boreanaz looked like he was dying inside as Conrad chided him for swiping one of her lines. Normally, gimmicky bits like the iPhone display of the Comedy Writing nominees' clips don't really add anything to the show, but at least they kept viewers from having to look at this uncomfortable duo.
MOST GRACIOUS WINNER: TINA FEY
In her first trip to the podium, for Comedy Writing, 30 Rock's Fey insisted that her nominated colleague Jack Burditt should have won for penning the line ''Never go with a hippie to a second location.'' In her second trip, for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy, she credited the defeated Julia Louis-Dreyfus as her inspiration, saying she gets through scenes as Liz Lemon by imagining how the New Adventures of Old Christine star would play them. By the time she made her third trip, for Best Comedy Series, you might have thought she'd take a little credit, but she was still spreading the wealth, citing, among others, mentor Lorne Michaels and the city of New York.
FUNNIEST POLITICAL BIT: STEPHEN COLBERT'S PRUNE ENDORSEMENT
In a night full of pointed political references and get-out-the-vote messages, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart said they were going to eschew political talk. But then Colbert pulled out a bag of prunes and started snacking on them. ''Right now, America needs a prune,'' he explained. ''It may not be a young, sexy plum. Granted it is shriveled and at times hard to swallow, but this dried-up old fruit has the experience we need.'' We're not sure if a certain presidential candidate should be flattered or insulted.
MOST GRACELESS EDITING: KIRK ELLIS
Accepting the writing prize for HBO's John Adams miniseries, Kirk Ellis thanked the producers for giving him an opportunity to write about ''a period in our history when articulate men articulated complex thoughts in complete sentences. They used words....'' At that point, the announcer cut him off and went to a commercial. It's not clear if he was being cut for time or for making an unflattering comparison to present-day politicians, but either way, during an Emmy ceremony that supposedly made a point of paying homage to great TV writing, it was a stark reminder of how little regard TV actually has for complex thoughts articulated in complete sentences.
BEST PAIRING: KATHY GRIFFIN AND DON RICKLES
''GET UP!'' bellowed Kathy Griffin, shaming the audience into giving a standing ovation to her presenting partner, 82-year-old comedy legend Don Rickles. The two of them went off-script, as she kept pitching him straight lines and he kept knocking them into the nosebleed seats. Later, he proved he'd earned the ovation by winning an Emmy for Best Performance in a Variety or Music Program for Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. Over the course of the evening, he insulted everyone from his wife (who was present, looking like she'd get her revenge later at home) to the cast of Ugly Betty (the apparent target of his remark comparing the front row to the O.J. Simpson jury), but he got away with it because he seemed genuinely moved to have won — and because he's Don Rickles, you hockey pucks.
BIGGEST UPSET: BRYAN CRANSTON
The Best Actor in a Drama award could have gone to the long-overdue Hugh Laurie in House, or to Jon Hamm of AMC's newly crowned Emmy darling Mad Men, or to repeat winner James Spader of Boston Legal. Would anyone have bet it would go to that other AMC star, Bryan Cranston, for playing a terminally ill crystal-meth dealer on Breaking Bad? It was a sweet and surprising victory for Cranston, who'd been nominated three times before without winning, for his role as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle.
BEST LITTLE SHOW THAT COULD: MAD MEN
Established dramas like Lost and Boston Legal were upstaged this year by Mad Men, the drama about a 1960s ad agency that airs on AMC, a basic-cable channel that didn't even have a drama series on its roster before it started airing Mad Men last summer. The series ended up with six Emmys (four at last week's Creative Arts ceremony, and the Best Writing and Best Drama Series prizes.) The admen and adwomen of Sterling Cooper may be a cynical bunch, but series creator Matthew Weiner seemed genuinely moved as he and his cast and crew took the night's top prize for their labor of love.