Kristen Johnston, clutching her second comedy supporting actress trophy for her role as Sally Solomon on “3rd Rock From the Sun,” said the past season was a tough one because the show was bounced all over the NBC sked, “and with all the management changeover at NBC … To be perfectly frank we didn’t know how much support we (had) from the network at that time.”

Johnston credited series star John Lithgow with keeping the group together and morale high. “He is just an amazing force, and it is just an amazing show.”

* * *

John Lithgow, who won for best actor in the same series as Johnston, echoed that it’s “been a hard year on ‘3rd Rock,’ ” and noted the series had reached the “fourth-season trough” in finding new things for aliens to do.

“But it’s like sex,” the actor said. “Even when it’s bad, it’s good. We’ve never stopped loving this show.”

* * *

After photographers caught Johnston and Heather Locklear gossiping outside the Shrine, the two struggled to fit into the same camera shot as Johnston towered over the “Spin City” and former “Melrose Place” star. After embracing to fit into the shot, Johnston proudly announced that an exciting new “lesbian crossover” angle was in the works for the two shows.

* * *

There seemed to be a real chemistry between “The Practice” co-stars Michael Badalucco and Holland Taylor, who won for drama supporting actor and actress, respectively.

Taylor, who played a judge having a fling with Badalucco’s lawyer character, was waiting backstage to speak to reporters and began kissing the TV monitor when she saw Badalucco’s name called as winner.

Both thesps noted their trophies were hard-won after years of toil as actors. “I’m a lot older than I look,” Badalucco said. “There’s been a lot of years going through the motions and working hard.”

Taylor praised “The Practice’s” creator, David E. Kelley, for writing a sexy part for a woman over 40 and said that recognition for her work means much more to her now: “To have a great part like this at my age is rich, rich, rich.”

* * *

When asked the difference between working in British and American television, English thespian Helen Mirren, who won for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie for “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” said: “In my experience, American television is made in Canada.”

The actress went on to say the big difference is “what happens afterward and the kind of machinery that is around the material — the marketing, the publicity and all of that kind of thing.”

Mirren received the evening’s only known injury when she got poked by one of the statuette’s pointy, upturned wings while she was onstage with other winners.

Mirren didn’t notice the wound at the time; the puncture was discovered later when bleeding was spotted. The actress was heard to remark: “I think I’m the first person to shed blood for an Emmy.”

* * *

As the sole performer from HBO’s “The Sopranos” to become a kudos recipient, Edie Falco was dismayed at the virtual shutout of the show, an Emmy nominations darling and one-time favorite during the nom period.

After taking the gold as leading actress in a drama series, Falco said that after the entire cast and crew arrived in Hollywood “on a New Jersey transit bus,” she felt lonely being the sole cast representative able to go on stage.

* * *

Dennis Franz, who took home his fourth Emmy for his leading role in “NYPD Blue,” said that the long-suffered Detective Andy Sipowicz is going to “take a breather” from the trauma and turmoil he had in his life last season.

“He needs some down time. He needs a few good things to happen in his life,” Franz said, hinting that Sipowicz will continue to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife, played by Debra Monk, who won the guest drama actress Emmy for that role.

* * *

When Andrew Benson, who produced outstanding miniseries winner “Horatio Hornblower,” was asked what he’ll be doing next, he held up his Emmy and said, “I got a number of projects going that all got a jiggle up the ladder since I got this.”

* * *

John Leguizamo, who won for outstanding performance in a variety or music program for “John Leguizamo’s Freak,” said that Spike Lee gave him invaluable help in getting the show “in perfect condition and viable for TV.”

“We had this great chemistry because we worked together on ‘Summer of Sam,’ ” the actor said. “Then I forgot to thank him, ungrateful bastard that I am.”

* * *

James Manos Jr., who won a dramatic writing award for “The Sopranos,” missed the opportunity to accept his statuette onstage. He was in the lobby having “wine and a cigarette with a buddy who turned me down for a pilot” when his name was announced.

Manos learned of his win from his mother, who reached him on his cell phone from Brooklyn. “She was very upset,” the writer said. “She said ‘Where the hell were you, you stupid bastard?’ ”

* * *

It was father vs. son in the category of best direction of a variety or music program. The son won — and apologized.

Paul Miller earned his first Emmy for directing the 1998 Tonys. His father, Walter C. Miller, was nominated for helming the Grammys.

“Dad, I’m sorry, and maybe next year,” the younger Miller said upon accepting his award. “I want to dedicate this to my father, who’s celebrating his 50th year in this crazy business.”

But a short time later, the senior Miller claimed his own Emmy, for best variety, music or comedy series for the “1998 Tony Awards.”

“I just want to make one comment before I read my little list here: Kids have no respect — to think that my son would take an Emmy away from his father. Fifty years in the business and my son takes an Emmy away from me. Anyhow, congratulations, Paul.”

The Millers joined a trio of parents and children who have both won Emmys: Danny and Marlo Thomas, James and Tyne Daly, and Carl and Rob Reiner.

* * *

Wrestling is so prevalent on TV these days that its stars are starting to think like programmers. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a star of the World Wrestling Federation, admits he was a little concerned about the WWF theatrics becoming overexposed, what with USA Network’s Monday night show pulling such strong ratings and UPN adding a two-hour WWF show to its Thursday lineup this season.

“I did wonder if the Thursday show would take away from Monday, with things going so good. But we had to take this opportunity now while the (Nielsen) numbers are so high,” said Austin, who also has a recurring role on CBS’ “Nash Bridges” this season. “We’re bringing in new storylines and new talent, so we’re trying to keep everything fresh.”

When Austin was asked whether wresting would qualify under comedy or drama for an Emmy award, the WWF grappler — whose black-tie attire consisted of a black leather vest emblazoned with a silver death skull — said, “It depends on who we got in the ring.”

* * *

After “The Chris Rock Show” won for best writing for a variety or music program, its star was asked what the biggest change in his life has been since Time magazine called him “the Funniest Man in America.” “My drug dealer has started giving me my drugs on credit,” Chris Rock quipped.

* * *

A passing of the torch took place backstage when “Action’s” Jay Mohr ran into “The Larry Sanders Show’s” Garry Shandling. The two comics were forced to trade compliments before Shandling told Mohr that his portrayal of the conniving producer on “Action” was a worthy successor to “Larry Sanders,” the now-defunct and oft-nominated HBO series.

* * *

The biggest gripe among Emmy attendees this year was the “big” move of the restrooms to outside of the Shrine building, which forced the celebs to go out of their way to find the portajohns and caused panic among organizers of the kudoscast when nominees such as Kelsey Grammer — nominated for lead comedy actor for “Frasier” — were nowhere to be found right before their awards came up. Security maintained its composure while ransacking the toilets in search of MIA stars and presenters.

* * *

Most of the celebrities crossing the red carpet Sunday said they chose their tuxedos and gowns to feel as comfortable as possible in the sweltering afternoon heat that had makeup smearing and sweat flowing.

An exception was Martin Short, who dragged along 80 pounds of costuming and makeup when he arrived at the Shrine Auditorium dressed as Jiminy Glick, one of the characters from his new variety show.

“My weight fluctuates,” Short said, one hand resting on top of the swell of his fat suit. “It really changes from day to day.”

Sweat ran down his face, washing away clumps of makeup and loosening the blond crewcut wig on his head, but he refused to break out of character.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and I love it,” said Short, aka Glick.

* * *

The wedding bells haven’t sounded yet, but Brad Pitt is already acting as diplomatically as any married man should.

“It’s ‘Friends,’ ” a smirking Pitt told reporters when asked his favorite TV show. Moments before, the actor had created the biggest stir of the night among celebrity-watchers when he arrived for the Emmy Awards hand in hand with his girlfriend, “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston.

As thousands whooped and hollered, Pitt answered a handful of questions, then quickly moved on when the talk turned to favorite TV shows.

* * *

The most graphic description of pre-award-winning jitters came from Thomas Schlamme, who won best directing of a comedy series for the “Sports Night” pilot: “I wanted to throw up.”

Schlamme confirmed that William H. Macy, who is the real-life husband of series star Felicity Huffman, would be doing a guest shot on several episodes as “a ratings guy for the network.”

* * *

Helen Hunt, who won for lead actress in a comedy series, said the biggest change in her life since “Mad About You” went off the air is “I got my time back.”

The actress said she’s filling that time by doing a film with Tom Hanks and one with Richard Gere, developing two shows as a producer and writing a movie.

* * *

One catty comment in the pressroom was from a woman who said that “Access Hollywood” co-anchor Nancy O’Dell was wearing a revealing dress “that Edy Williams didn’t get around to wearing.”

* * *

Scribe Bruce Vilanch, who arrived in the Shrine parking lot with a tuxedo in one hand and a pair of red Nike “dress up” running shoes in the other, said the trick to writing for the Emmys “is to make it seem fresh. Every year we have the same crop of nominees. It’s up to the writers to dust off the crop.”

* * *

“If someone were to ask me the fastest or best way to win an Emmy, I’d say write a script and get Calista Flockhart to say the words,” said producer David E. Kelley after his show “Ally McBeal” won best comedy series Emmy.

When Flockhart was asked if she felt pressure doing a weekly show, the “Ally McBeal” star said: “I think I have pressure in the hair department. I don’t feel I have a lot of pressure doing the show. The environment at the studio is very safe.”

* * *

The one person who you’d think would hate having the Emmys at the Shrine didn’t seem too upset about it. Philippe Jordan, who sells used cars at Felix Chevrolet, which was practically barricaded by the limo gridlock at the corner of Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard, contends it isn’t the worst day of the year at the dealership.

He said he sold a 1997 Monte Carlo to one Emmy show staffer in 1998, though he did remember clearly that the buyer didn’t have the money for the down payment and that his MasterCard wouldn’t accept the $500 charge.

“People never know when they want to buy a car,” Jordan explained.

— Cynthia Littleton, Bill Higgins, Chris Pursell and wire services