The 46th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Presenters: Tim Allen, Kathy Baker, Candice Bergen, Brett Butler, Peter Falk, Dennis Franz, Kelsey Grammer, Phil Hartman, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Patricia Kalember, Swoosie Kurtz, Angela Lansbury, Jay Leno, John Lithgow, Heather Locklear, James McDaniel, Julianne Phillips, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Reiser, Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Seymour, Garry Shandling, Tom Skerritt, Tracey Ullman, Sela Ward.

With:
Hosts: Patricia Richardson, Ellen DeGeneres.

Presenters: Tim Allen, Kathy Baker, Candice Bergen, Brett Butler, Peter Falk, Dennis Franz, Kelsey Grammer, Phil Hartman, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Patricia Kalember, Swoosie Kurtz, Angela Lansbury, Jay Leno, John Lithgow, Heather Locklear, James McDaniel, Julianne Phillips, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Reiser, Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Seymour, Garry Shandling, Tom Skerritt, Tracey Ullman, Sela Ward.

Performers: Bette Midler, Jason Alexander.

Putting Ellen DeGeneres in the driver’s seat at this year’s Emmys was one smart decision, as her quirky, offhanded comedy injected many a bright moment in TV’s annual lengthy awards odyssey. In fact, this year’s Emmys were a mostly painless affair, a smart, well-orchestrated three hours peppered with a healthy dose of stand-up comics.

These mavens of TV comedy added a much needed sense of irony to a show otherwise saturated with self-congratulations. As Jerry Seinfeld adroitly put it: “Sometimes I can’t thank myself enough.”

This is the year of women emcees on awards shows, and DeGeneres and Patricia Richardson did it up with aplomb, as they and the team of writers kept the show moving, funny and witty.

Director Louis J. Horvitz cleverly let the emcees venture away from the podium, which brought out some great moments of spontaneity. Richardson, for example, got some laughs out of talking to accounting folk, while DeGeneres found laughs wherever she went, even in the backstage press room.

The show had a lot going for it: Not only was it kept to three hours, it offered comedy and drama that appealed to both industry insiders and the general public.

The comedy ranged from Jeffrey Katzenberg gags — no one remembered to submit Tim Allen’s name for Emmy consideration, and Allen joked that the exec was responsible, which led to his recent exit from Disney — to DeGeneres remarking to the somber David Caruso that he has a nice butt.

Speaking of TV politics, there was nary a mention of the controversial Caruso , not even from his co-star (and fellow nominee) Dennis Franz as he graciously accepted the award for best actor in a dramatic series.

There were also the odd moments that are part of every live show (and don’t audiences love them?) What was Faye Dunaway — with her references to how much love there is in “this town”– talking about, anyway? Don’t ask David Letterman because he, too, expressed confusion when he was onstage.

Kirstie Alley, as usual, was yet another oddity, getting another chance to make a spectacle of herself with a rambling, distracted acceptance speech for the telefilm “David’s Mother.”

The musical numbers were bright, starting with Bette Midler’s early number from her Emmy-nominated “Gypsy” and getting better as the show progressed: Jason Alexander proved to any who didn’t already know that he is an accomplished song-and-dance man. His work, in a funny tribute to TV theme songs, was indeed a highlight.

The presenters did their part well enough, though it was irksome that many of them named the winners without mentioning the TV show for which they won.

There were also some poignant moments, as Emmy producers managed a last-minute tribute to Jessica Tandy, a nominee for “To Dance With the White Dog ,” who died Sunday morning. John Lithgow put the memorial into fine perspective and producers wisely decided to ease their stringent time rules and accord the tribute with a long moment of silence.

There was also the usual quirkiness that TV is so good at. For example, after the moment of silence in tribute to Tandy, the screen went black, followed by a commercial showing an elephant’s butt.

The 46th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

(Sun. (11), 8-11 p.m., ABC)

Production: Broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium by the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences. Executive producer, Don Mischer; coordinating producer, Michael B. Seligman; director, Louis J. Horvitz; writers, John Riggi, Billy Grundfest, Drake Sather, Alex Herschlag, Vance DeGeneres; lighting director, Bob Dickinson; production designer, Jeremy Railton; art director, Shelley Warner; audio, Ed Greene.

Crew: Musical director, Glen Roven; retrospective clip sequences, Chuck Workman; nomination film packages, Douglass M. Stewart Jr.

Cast: Hosts: Patricia Richardson, Ellen DeGeneres.

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