August and Piratesconspired to knock down the ratings for this year's Emmy awards to an average 9.2 rating and a 15 share versus last year's 12.5/20. Last year, however, the awards show aired in late September, as audiences were returning to their TV sets for the start of the new season. It also didn't have to compete with a showing of a hit movie, in this year's case ABC's telecast of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,which averaged a 6.0/10. NBC's telecast of the red-carpet goings-on at 7:00, which posted a 5.1/9, was also thoroughly trounced by CBS's 60 Minutes, which recorded an 8.0/14. The Emmy telecast peaked in the 9:00 p.m. hour with an 11.0/17, but Piratesalso did well in that hour, registering a 7.0/11.


Emmy voters, often hooted by TV critics after the awards are presented, were generally being congratulated all around by them for, as Verne Gay remarked in today's Newsday, finally getting it right -- awarding 24 the trophy for best drama and The Office the trophy for best comedy. "In other words, the two best shows in their respective categories actually won," Gay wrote. "When was the last time you or anyone else heard those words in connection with an Emmy Awards ceremony?" As usual, HBO was the biggest winner with 26 awards (nine for the miniseries Elizabeth I). Critics thought the best man or woman won in the top acting categories as well. Kiefer Sutherland took the Emmy for best actor in a dramatic series (24), while Tony Shalhoub won for comedy series (Monk) -- his third win in four attempts. Mariska Hargitay won the best actress award in a dramatic series (Law & Order: SVU), while Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepted it for The New Adventures of Old Christine. Dreyfus, the former Seinfeldco-star, referred to the so-called Seinfeld Curse that has struck down every other show featuring a Seinfeldregular until Christine came along. "I'm not somebody who believes in curses," she said on stage, "but curse this, baby."


Conan O'Brien received high marks as host of the affair. Robert Bianco in USA Todaywrote that he "invigorated his portions of the three-hour NBC broadcast with the same inventive flair and loopy, self-lacerating wit that powers his Emmy-nominated late-night show." Referring to a running gag that had "beloved TV icon Bob Newhart," as O'Brien described him, placed in an airtight tank with exactly three hours of air, where he would die if the show ran over three hours, David Bianculli wrote in the New York Daily News: "O'Brien made clock-watching, and the predictable Emmy overrun, a tongue-in-cheek blood sport." Frazier Moore of the Associated Press put it this way: "Conan was a destroyer on the Emmycast." And Melanie McFarland summed up in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "O'Brien will once again go down as one of the best hosts this show has ever had." Unfortunately, a plane-crash skit at the beginning of O'Brien's opening, inspired by the crash in Lost, was panned for insensitivity following, as it did, the real-life plane crash in Lexington, KY, which took the lives of 49 people on board. In the Los Angeles Times, Scott Collins called it, "a cringe-inducing clinker." L.A. Weeklycolumnist Nikki Finke asked, "Really, is there even one person at NBC with a brain left in his head?" In Lexington, Tim Gilbert, who runs the local NBC affiliate, said that the skit aired immediately after the station's coverage of the crash. "At the station, we were as horrified as they were at home," Gilbert said.


Kidnapped Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were freed Sunday after two weeks in captivity. While their kidnappers released a video showing them dressed in traditional Arab garb and apparently converting to Islam, Centanni said that the scene was staged at gunpoint. "It was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on," he said. At a news conference, Centanni said that he hoped that his experience will not scare other journalists from covering the story of what is taking place in Gaza. "Because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world needs to know more about." In a statement, Fox News chief Roger Ailes thanked those who had helped secure the release of the newsmen. "The entire international community is beginning to realize that journalists should never be hostages or pawns in world events. Their job is to tell the story of the world as it unfolds," Ailes said. Also on Sunday two Reuters TV newsmen were wounded in Gaza when their armored car was hit by an Israeli missile. Although the vehicle was clearly marked with "TV" in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, the Israeli military said it was "acting suspiciously." The Foreign Press Association in Tel Aviv called the claim "outrageous."