Hail to the chief. And hail to the Emmys while we're at it.
A new voting system that made it easier for more members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to vote also cleared the way for a more progressive roster of winners. Out with the same old-same old, in with the new, including freshman drama "The West Wing" and 2-year-old sitcom "Will & Grace."
That's not intended as tacit approval of the new system -- time will tell whether the Emmys turn into a popularity contest -- but it certainly worked to make the telecast more rewarding for viewers tired of seeing the likes of John Lithgow and Dennis Franz pick up awards year after year.
The new system must have encouraged more voting by Academy members willing to make unconventional choices. How else to explain two Emmy wins by transvestite British comedian Eddie Izzard for his HBO special?
But the young turks didn't take over the Academy. If they had, Joss Whedon would have won for writing the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" tour de force "Hush." Instead, Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland won for the also excellent Christmas episode of "The West Wing."
That was just the first of "West Wing's" many awards. If nothing else, "The 52nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards" proved Hollywood loves Washington, honoring "The West Wing" in almost every category the show was nominated in.
The major exception was lead actor in a drama. Emmy had to make up for its oversight of James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") last year, so he beat out Martin Sheen this year.
"I can't really explain this except I think the Academy has an affinity for slightly overweight, bald men," Gandolfini said. "Excuse me, Mr. Franz."
Host Garry Shandling kept the proceedings lively, albeit sex-obsessed. Did anyone honestly expect otherwise? When you hire Shandling, you automatically get jokes about narcissism and his sex life.
The opening skit, a "Survivor" tribal council parody with the loser getting to host the Emmys, was disappointing, but other sketches were more successful, including one where Shandling whispered story ideas for "Sex and the City" to Sarah Jessica Parker, grossing her out in the process.
Shandling also continued his bizarre mating dance with David Duchovny, who appeared in a sketch as a men's restroom attendant. They first flirted on "The Larry Sanders Show" a few years ago, but this time it devolved into a "you're voted out of the restroom joke." So five minutes ago.
It wouldn't be a TV awards show if the Emmys didn't start to feel overly long, and that happened last night around 9:30 p.m. (It ended a few minutes past 11.) But without new winners to be excited about, it would have happened much sooner.
Here are a few awards for the Emmy hoopla:
NATIVE SON ALSO RISES AWARD: Kittanning native Todd Holland took home his second Emmy award for directing a comedy series. In 1998, he won for "The Larry Sanders Show." Last night he won for the pilot of "Malcolm in the Middle."
BEST PRESENTERS: Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond" presented an award with dialogue reminiscent of their bickering husband and wife TV characters.
"All I'm saying is our show prides itself on realism ... tongue makes it real," Romano said, trying to steal a more sensual kiss from his TV wife.
"You know how I feel about this," Heaton protested. "My husband talked to you, my father has called you...."
BEST BILLY CRYSTAL IMMITATION: Wayne Brady from "Whose Line Is It Anyway" sung medleys about the past season, including a "Sopranos" ode to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana": "Tony Soprano will kill you, don't even doubt it, he'll pop a cap in your back, fuhgged-about it."
AWARD FOR MOST IMPROVED PRE-SHOW: ABC finally got its pre-show act together. In recent years the broadcast networks have challenged E!'s dominance of award red carpet shows, with results both mediocre (Meredith Viera at this past March's Oscars) and dreadful (Geena Davis the year before).
Tom Bergeron ("Hollywood Squares") handled last night's Emmy pre-show with aplomb (except when he called it the Oscars), but Nancy O'Dell embarrassed herself fawning over Heather Locklear, and correspondent Alex Cambert of Telemundo needed to be reigned in.
"My left butt cheek was grabbed by Jenna Elfman," Cambert said. "Now, we all know Jennifer Lopez has a booty, but here's the real booty, the gift baskets .... There's enough liquor here for a Kennedy family reunion."
Shut up already!
FUNNIEST REACTION TO WINNING AN EMMY: "As a gay man, I can't believe I'm saying this," said "Will & Grace" executive producer Max Mutchnick as he gazed at the trophy, "but I think I finally met a girl I want to sleep with."
SCRAPING THE BOTTOM OF THE "SURVIVOR" QUESTION BARREL AWARD: In E! pre-show coverage Joan Rivers sniffed out the answer to the one unasked "Survivor" question: Who stunk?
"Nobody had B.O.," said "Survivor" cast member Rudy Boesch. "No kidding."
If it were anyone else, I'd think it was a polite, political answer. But those who watched "Survivor" knows Rudy is honest to fault, even when it's politically incorrect.
AWARD FOR AN IMPROVED VOTING SYSTEM: Before this year, Emmy voters had to go to a hotel to watch nominated series as part of a panel. This year they could watch tapes at home. Emmy expert Tom O'Neil said if Patricia Heaton won for lead actress in a comedy series it would prove Emmy voters really did watch their tapes before voting. Heaton won.
GOLD RIBBON AWARD: OK, let me see if I can keep this straight: Red ribbons are for AIDS, another color (blue maybe?) is for cancer and now there's gold, which many of the stars wore last night. If you're wondering, it's to support the SAG-AFTRA commercial strike.
PAYBACK AWARD: Host Garry Shandling, complaining that no one critiques Joan Rivers' outfits, received loud applause from celebrities in the audience when he said, "She looks like a hooker with a microphone."
Rob Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum .