Spirit Awards rock bleep free

Show has Silverman, off-the-cuff speeches

As the beachside big-top extravaganza better known as the Spirit Awards enters its 22nd year, the event seems like a very far cry from its humble beginnings at a restaurant in WeHo.

This year, 1,400 guests will congregate in the big white tent in Santa Monica for a two-hour show, televised live. There will even be bleachers set up to watch arrivals on the red carpet.

Comic Sarah Silverman hosts the kudocast for a second time. “I like to get paid in twos,” she says. “It’s more ‘indie.’ ” When asked how she’ll put her stamp on the show this year, Silverman, who talked at length about her vagina in 2006, confirms she’ll do it “anally.”

We can’t wait for her opening monologue.

“You don’t hire someone like Sarah Silverman and edit her,” says show producer Diana Zahn Storey. “It’s not what we’re about, anyway.”

In addition to Silverman and, of course, plenty of off-the-cuff speeches from honorees, Zahn says there will be some “cool new things” this year, including a Robert Altman ensemble cast award. She’s also bringing back some old favorites, like the sing-along parodies dedicated to each of the five feature film nominees. Among those belting out tunes this year will be Neil Patrick Harris, Loretta Divine and Rosario Dawson. The Crystal Method will provide the show’s opening sounds.

The lively, free-flowing Spirits are expanding in reach, too. The 2006 show was seen by more than 1 million viewers across Rainbow Media’s IFC, AMC and WE channels, says Rainbow Entertainment Services prexy Ed Carroll. “Last year turned out to be most watched year for Spirit Awards ever, and we’re looking to top that mark this year,” he adds.

This is the second year Rainbow will cross-platform Spirits coverage over three channels. WE will present a half-hour red carpet show starting at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, then IFC will air the awards live, uncut and commercial-free starting at 5 p.m. Eastern. An edited rebroadcast — without the potential F-bombs — airs on AMC at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Says Zahn, “We don’t have to bleep anything for IFC; that’s why they are the perfect partner for us.”

“We wouldn’t change a word or embarrassing moment — in fact we count on it,” Carroll says, reminiscing about “memorable unplanned moments” such as Ally Sheedy’s enthusiastic, rambling 12-minute speech back in 1999. “That’s the fun of live TV.”

The show also will be beamed out to more than 100 countries, up from 65 last year. And, for the first time, Rainbow will add a live Webcast on the day of the show, available on the IFC, AMC and WE Web sites. Webcams will cover the red carpet, the green room, backstage and IFC’s after-party.

Hanging out backstage or taking lengthy cigarette/bathroom breaks outside the big white tent is a long-held tradition at the casual indie gathering. In the past few years, additional lounge areas have sprouted along with the more luxurious porta-potties. This year, there will be spaces hosted by IFC, Netflix and new Spirits sponsor Elle magazine (their backstage green room will feature a denim-covered piano).

Roaming Pop Secret carts will hand out popcorn. And the On Three Prods. gifting lounge will be supplying swag to VIPs — everything from designer sunglasses to fake diamonds. Plus, VIPs will get a shot at grabbing a lifetime membership to Netflix from the online vid service’s claw machine.

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