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TV Column: Lisa de Moraes on the 2009 Emmys

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That year, '67 best drama winner "Mission: Impossible" also won again but, tragically, "The Monkees" was supplanted as best comedy series, by "Get Smart" -- blocking a "rerun" clean sweep.

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Although this year's winners probably also will be a virtual loop of last year's, the show itself will bear little resemblance.

Since this year's Emmy contenders were announced in July and they knew exactly what they were up against, CBS and Mischer have been working like little beavers to make sure Sunday's Emmycast looks as little as possible like last year's show, which clocked just 12 million viewers. Everyone else ran screaming after the opening number, in which those synthetic stars of reality TV -- "Project Runway's" Heidi Klum, "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest, "Survivor's" Jeff Probst, "Deal or No Deal's" Howie Mandel, "Dancing With the Stars's" Tom Bergeron -- decided it would be a terrific idea to open the show by getting up onstage and telling viewers they had nothing to say: They'd tossed out the script. It was the worst-reviewed hosting gig since David Letterman tried to turn the Academy Awards into a late-night act.

After last year's bust -- the franchise's smallest audience on record -- the TV Academy commissioned a study, which concluded, among other things, that viewers bailed because they did not recognize the winning shows. A lot of last year's winners, who will probably be this year's winners, are niche cable programs -- or NBC shows, which is practically the same thing.

Nearly one-third of last year's Emmycast, for instance, was spent showering trophies on the HBO miniseries "John Adams," which the pay-cable network estimates was watched by just 5 million people over its various showings.

One plan was to pre-tape wins in categories feting producers, writers and directors whom the average TV viewer has never heard of, so as to be able to edit out all the chest-bumping in the audience, down-the-aisle-walking and agent-thanking up onstage. That idea got killed when Hollywood guilds held show-clips hostage until Mischer caved.

Other changes, however, have skated through. Fewer of those presenter-couples will be used this year, and each couple will hand out multiple awards. That will drastically reduce the show's quotient of mind-numbing presenter introductions, presenter walks to podium and, most important, gawdawful presenter-to-presenter scripted banter.

For this we are grateful.

Here's another change that deserves our support. According to insiders, every nominee -- big stars and unknown writers alike -- has been told that acceptance speeches not of interest to the audience watching at home do not belong on the Emmy stage. Acceptance speeches that have something to say and are delivered with passion will not get the hook. Acceptance speeches that sound like lists of personal assistants, managers and agents being sucked up to will be stopped dead with music.

Hallelujah.

And, for the first time in five years, live music is returning to the Emmy show. The 17-piece band will be onstage throughout the show; it includes guitarists Dean Parks (America, Steely Dan), Ray Parker Jr. (Raydio), keyboardist Michael Bearden (who was Michael Jackson's last music director), bassist Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones) and percussionist Lenny Castro (Fleetwood Mac).

Sarah McLachlan will perform her tune "I Will Remember You" live during the In Memoriam segment of the show.

The Emmy show has traditionally been a confusing mishmash of categories; this year, the awards are being organized by genre -- starting with comedy and winding up with drama -- in hopes of making it read more like a "story" with a beginning, middle and end. A dance number is planned, using talent from various dance-competition series, including some of those celebs who've turned up on "Dancing With the Stars."

And of course, there's this year's host, Neil Patrick Harris. Lots and lots of Neil Patrick Harris on this year's Emmy show.

Harris, star of CBS's youngest-skewing series, "How I Met Your Mother," got a huge thumbs-up from critics and viewers for hosting the most recent Tony Awards ceremony, also on CBS -- including for that tune he performed at the very end of the ceremony feting the night's winners, a number Harris and a team wrote during the show.

With Harris hosting, Broadway's big trophy show posted a 19 percent increase over the previous year's ceremony and drew its biggest audience in three years.


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