2009 Emmys: Same Winners, But A Better Show

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Jon Stewart accepts the Emmy for best variety, music or comedy series. This was the seventh straight win in the category for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Kevin Winter/Getty Images hide caption

Photo Gallery: The Emmy Awards
itoggle caption Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When Jon Stewart paused in the middle of his acceptance speech during Sunday night's Emmy Awards to thank host Neil Patrick Harris, he did it in three capacities.

First, Stewart was a winner (accepting on behalf of The Daily Show, which was named best variety, music or comedy series). Second, he was a former awards-show host congratulating Harris on handling a job that has devoured many applicants — including the five reality show hosts who managed last year's very bad show.

But most of all, Stewart seemed to be speaking as a guy sitting through a three-hour ceremony from a probably uncomfortable seat and finding it far less agonizing than he expected.

It's not that anything was radically different about the 2009 Emmys. In fact, the awards for best drama series, best comedy series, best lead actor in a drama, best lead actress in a drama and best lead actor in a comedy went to exactly the same people and programs that won last year (see a list of winners).

The surprise was that the show itself improved substantially. Awards telecasts are notoriously — and perhaps a little ironically, in the case of the Emmys — bad television. They're usually long, boring, poorly paced affairs that drag in some places and are rushed in others. Viewers sit through clumsy clip packages and awkward musical numbers, only to see potentially interesting acceptance speeches interrupted by the orchestra as if there isn't a moment to spare.

The show started off with a silly but boundlessly energetic song that Harris delivered with a level of commitment reminiscent of his performance at the Tony Awards earlier this year. For all the cornball jokes, it wasn't inept or obligatory; if you put Harris out there, he sells what he's there to sell. Getting the show off to a strong start by leaning directly on the host was the right call.

Heidi Klum i i

Heidi Klum Matt Sayles/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Matt Sayles/AP
Heidi Klum

Heidi Klum

Matt Sayles/AP

But the best call turned out to be grouping the awards by genre: comedy, reality, miniseries and movie, variety and drama. That structure spread the awards people were most likely to care about over all three hours, thus avoiding the giant sinkhole that plagues the middle sections of most awards telecasts, in which trophy after trophy is handed out and none of the nominees are familiar.

Most importantly, the show was paced so that almost no one was involuntarily played off the stage, and it still ended only about three minutes late. Somehow, someone ran a tight ship while remaining mostly invisible to the viewer. There seemed to be less scripted banter between presenters than usual, and there was certainly less needless filler of the "Salute to the Boom Microphone" variety.

All awards shows are exercises in silliness and vanity, to some degree. But this was a much more palatable example than most. Perhaps it's not the most enthusiastic praise one could offer, but whether you're Jon Stewart in the auditorium or a viewer at home, it could have been — and in the past, it has been — a lot worse.

Emmy Winners: The Major Categories

PROGRAMS

Outstanding Comedy Series
30 Rock, NBC

Outstanding Drama Series
Mad Men, AMC

Outstanding Made For Television Movie
Grey Gardens, HBO

Outstanding Miniseries
Little Dorrit, PBS

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race, CBS

Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

LEAD ACTORS

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock, NBC

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Toni Collette, United States Of Tara, Showtime

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, AMC

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Glenn Close, Damages, FX

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Brendan Gleeson, Into The Storm, HBO

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens, HBO

SUPPORTING ACTORS

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Jon Cryer, Two And A Half Men, CBS

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies, ABC

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Michael Emerson, Lost, ABC

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Cherry Jones, 24, FOX

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Ken Howard, Grey Gardens, HBO

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Shohreh Aghdashloo, House Of Saddam, HBO

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