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Fireworks backstage at WGA

With “Schindler’s List” and “The Piano” predictably nabbing the premier Writers Guild of America awards Sunday night (Daily Variety, March 14), guests at the A-list bash had to find their fun in the awkward stream of mishaps, miscues and backstage fireworks at the ceremony.

Savvy presenters and witty winners gave the evening a ritzy patina that kept things sharp and moving along. And backstage, award winners gave often-eloquent arguments for their work.

Steven Zaillian, who scripted “Schindler’s List,” said he and Directors Guild of America award winner Steven Spielberg agreed that the film’s imagery had to be horrific in a new way. “There was a conscious choice to show it from a new perspective, to show things that haven’t been seen before,” he said.

Veteran scribe Larry Gelbart livened things up with his acceptance speech for “Barbarians at the Gate,” a co-winner of the award for adapted longform.

“We’re only allowed a minute up here so I’ll jump start my sincerity,” Gelbart said.

Gelbart praised HBO for funding the pic about the Wall Street takeover that produced RJR-Nabisco, calling the cabler the “Has Balls Organization.”

“Seinfeld” writer and co-creator Larry David provided the evening’s raciest moment in his acceptance speech in the sitcom category for “The Contest,” a “Seinfeld” episode that focused on masturbation without ever using the word.

“I always felt that masturbation would pay off for me someday,” he said. “I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, but I knew if I practiced diligently, something would emerge. I guess this was it.”

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau put their thesp hats on in a hilarious I.A.L. Diamond skit about writers’ inability to get to the actual writing.

Liz Torres, of “The John Larroquette Show,” gave the aud a queasy laugh when she joked about Ric Burns co-winning the best docu award for “The American Experience: The Donner Party.”

“Wasn’t that meat good?” Torres quipped.

Presenters Ralph Fiennes (of “Schindler’s List”) and Angela Bassett (of “What’s Love Got to Do With It”) were surprised when the large quill from the WGA’s onstage sign fell noisily to the floor. Fiennes deadpanned, “This proves once again that the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Backstage, WGA staffers were in an uproar over a radio reporter who wanted to broadcast the winners before they were announced on the West Coast.

A perennial problem with the WGA awards (and the Directors Guild ceremony) is that the New York dinner is over long before the West Coast bash gets going. The KNX reporter said CBS Radio in Gotham had already announced the winners, so she was ready to do the same.

Meanwhile, in New York at Tavern on the Green, the atmosphere was loose and chatty.

CBS’ Mike Wallace typified the mood, calling Diane Sawyer’s new $ 7 million contract with ABC obscene “for those of us who are wage slaves at CBS.”

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