The show opened with host Neil Patrick Harris performing the opening number, "Put Down the Remote". He then demonstrated how TV series theme songs and opening credits have been shortened in recent years by showing the opening credits for Lost and Cougar Town. After which, Harris gave a tour of the stage, pointing to his podium, the band, the main screen, and the control room for the show's crew.
A feature on the comedy genre was flashed on the big screen. It included clips from The Office, 30 Rock, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother, Entourage among others. The first award for the evening, the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, was presented by 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Mad Men's Jon Hamm and went to Kristin Chenoweth for Pushing Daisies.
Before the commercial break, the first batch of TV's Breakthrough Performances was presented. Fans got the chance to vote for their favorite breakthrough performance of the year by logging on to TV.com.
NPH introduced John Hodgman as the comedic color commentator for the entire evening, and Hodgman gave a sampling of his quips and comments. Harris then welcomed to the stage his How I Met Your Mother co-stars Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel, and Josh Radnor, who presented the award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. Matt Hubbard won the award for the 30 Rock episode, "Reunion".
After NPH welcomed a television fan who earned the best seat in the house (which turned out to be a seat behind two Harlem Globetrotter players), Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine) presented the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. The Emmy ended up with Jon Cryer for Two and a Half Men.
After paying tribute to the legendary comediennes of the industry such as Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore, Justin Timberlake read the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The mustache-wearing Sarah Silverman, along with the other female contenders, lost out to Toni Collette who won the award for United States of Tara.
While Jon Cryer was at the press room giving interviews, Neil gamely asked him how he felt about the win and if the award envelope actually read "Jon Cryer" and not his own name. Leighton Meester and Blake Lively from CW's Gossip Girl then presented the awards for Outstanding Guest Actress and Actor in a Comedy Series, which went to Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake respectively, both for their appearances on Saturday Night Live. Meester and Lively continued with handing the Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series to Jeffrey Blitz for The Office episode, "Stress Relief".
After the commercial break, Brothers & Sisters' Rob Lowe announced the nominees and the winner for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Alec Baldwin bagged the award for the second consecutive year for 30 Rock.
The Reality genre segment opened with clips from reality shows such as Top Chef, Amazing Race, The Bachelor, America's Next Top Model, The Apprentice, American Idol among others. It was followed by a dance performance featuring Dancing with the Stars' Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff.
Emmy winner Jon Cryer and Heroes' Hayden Panettiere then presented the award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. Jeff Probst of Survivor went up the stage to accept his Emmy. Award presenter Tracy Morgan expressed his discontent for his show 30 Rock not being nominated for Outstanding Reality or Reality-Competition Program as he announced the category's nominees and winner, Amazing Race.
The awards night continued with the Miniseries and Movie segment as clips from the past year's TV productions flashed on the screen. Hollywood couple Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick presented the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. The award went to Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Saddam. They proceeded in calling the awardee for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie, Ken Howard for Grey Gardens.
Former Grey's Anatomy co-stars Kate Walsh and Chandra Wilson announced the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. Into the Storm's Brendan Gleeson took the stage and thanked the Academy and the project's cast and crew for his award. NPH then checked on the "Best Seat in the House" winner, who was unfortunately transferred behind the camera and lights crew.
Patricia Arquette (Medium) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer), who both play mediums on their respective TV series, presented the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or a Movie. Due to the absence of Emmy winner Andrew Davis (Little Dorrit), Arquette and Hewitt accepted the award on his behalf. They went on to read the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Directing in a Miniseries or a Movie. Dearbhla Walsh took home the Emmy for helming "Part I" of Little Dorrit.
After host NPH called on the accountants of Ernst & Young to go on stage and discuss the tabulation process for the Emmys, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog's Dr. Horrible (played by NPH himself), interrupted them to blabber about the advantages of watching shows on the internet rather than on television. His nemesis Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion), along with co-stars Felicia Day and Simon Helberg, also made an appearance. Dr. Horrible's video blog ran out of battery power and the "Emmy broadcast" resumed just in time to hear the accountants end their explanation.
Emmy awardee Alec Baldwin took center stage and presented the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. Grey Gardens' Jessica Lange joined Baldwin on stage to accept her first-ever Emmy win after two previous nominations.
24 lead actor Kiefer Sutherland and Fringe lead actress Anna Torv announced the nominees in the category Outstanding Made for Television Movie. Sutherland proclaimed Grey Gardens as the winner. Director Michael Sucsy accepted the award on behalf of the HBO production. The Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, as revealed by Torv, went to the BBC-PBS television adaptation, Little Dorrit.
More than halfway through the show, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's SNL impression of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton opened the Year in Variety featurette, which included various clips of concerts, variety shows, and late night talk shows.
The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Kaley Cuoco graced the stage to present the nominees in the category Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Series. Bruce Gowers, director of American Idol, won for the first time after six previous Emmy nominations. The CBS sitcom trio proceeded to announcing the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Series. The team from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart took the stage to receive their Emmy.
With party music playing on the background, TV show host Jimmy Fallon went on stage wearing a headset and speaking with a synthe voice to present the category Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. But before he did so, Fallon intentionally fell on his back and asked the award show director to just run the clip of nominees. Jimmy took off his headset and proclaimed the Emmy winner, Hugh Jackman and the rest of the crew who worked on the opening number of the 81st Academy Awards.
Actor-comedian Ricky Gervais took the floor and poked fun at film stars who attend the Golden Globes and the Oscars. He also made fun of some of his colleagues in the TV industry before reading the nominees for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart snagged the Emmy, with Jon Stewart making the acceptance speech.
After the break, Harris acknowledged the presence of John Schaffner, the president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Highlights from this year's best drama series were then shown on the big screen. The featurette included gripping clips from NCIS, House, Criminal Minds, True Blood, Lost, 24, CSI, and Battlestar Galactica among others.
NCIS: Los Angeles male leads Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J presented the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, which went to Michael Emerson for Lost. Although Emerson previously received an Emmy (for his guest appearance on The Practice), this was his first Emmy win for portraying Benjamin Linus on the ABC sci-fi drama after being nominated the past three years. He graciously thanked his Lost family and ended his speech by thanking everyone in Hawaiian. O'Donnell then read the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, and LL Cool J revealed Cherry Jones (24) as the Emmy recipient.
Canadian singer-composer Sarah MacLachlan gave a live rendition of "I Will Remember You" as the Emmys paid tribute to the people in the industry who passed away the past year.
Television vampires Stephen Moyer and David Boreanaz stepped onto the center stage and announced the nominees and winners in the categories Outstanding Guest Actress and Actor in a Drama Series. This year's honorees were Ellen Burstyn (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Michael J. Fox (Rescue Me), who themselves presented the award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. Rod Holcomb, who directed the ER episode "And in the End", was not present to accept his Emmy trophy. Fox and Burstyn went on to announce the winner for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, Kater Gordon and Matthew Weiner for the Mad Men episode "Meditations in an Emergency".
Outstanding Drama Actor nominee Simon Baker took his turn in presenting this year's nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series which included the brilliant actresses Glenn Close (Damages), Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Holly Hunter (Saving Grace), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer). For the second straight year, Close ended up with the Emmy for the FX legal drama series.
Desperate Housewives star Dana Delany read the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Simon Baker (The Mentalist), Gabrielle Byrne (In Treatment), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), and Hugh Laurie (House). Cranston followed in Glenn Close' footsteps as he too won a 2nd consecutive Emmy for playing a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who goes into the meth trade.
Television legend Bob Newhart read the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series while Sigourney Weaver later presented the final award, Outstanding Drama Series. 30 Rock and Mad Men both received the Emmy in their respective categories for the second consecutive year. Tina Fey spoke on behalf of the cast and crew of 30 Rock while show creator Matthew Weiner accepted the award for Mad Men.
Neil Patrick Harris closed the show just in time, "May the winners enjoy their Emmys. May the nominees hold their heads high. And may we see you again on broadcast television next year. Thanks a lot! Take it easy."
List of Award Nominees and Winners:
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
• Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
• Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live
• Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
• Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
• Kristin Wiig, Saturday Night Live
• Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
• James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Flight of the Conchords
• Jack Burditt and Robert Carlock, 30 Rock
• Robert Carlock, 30 Rock
• Matt Hubbard, 30 Rock
• Ron Weiner, 30 Rock
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
• Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
• Kevin Dillon, Entourage
• Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
• Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
• Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock
• Rainn Wilson, The Office
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
• Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
• Toni Collette, United States of Tara
• Tina Fey, 30 Rock
• Julia Louis-Dreyfus, New Adventures of Old Christine
• Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds
• Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
• Jennifer Aniston, 30 Rock
• Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory
• Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
• Gena Rowlands, Monk
• Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock
• Betty White, My Name Is Earl
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
• Alan Alda, 30 Rock
• Beau Bridges, Desperate Housewives
• Jon Hamm, 30 Rock
• Steve Martin, 30 Rock
• Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
• Julian Farino, Entourage
• James Bobin, Flight of the Conchords
• Jeff Blitz, The Office
• Millicent Shelton, 30 Rock
• Beth McCarthy, 30 Rock
• Todd Holland, 30 Rock
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
• Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
• Steve Carell, The Office
• Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords
• Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
• Tony Shalhoub, Monk
• Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men
Outstanding Host for a Reality Or Reality-Competition Program
• Tom Bergeron, Dancing with the Stars
• Phil Keoghan, Amazing Race
• Heidi Klum, Project Runway
• Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio, Top Chef
• Jeff Probst, Survivor
• Ryan Seacrest, American Idol
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
• Amazing Race, CBS
• American Idol, FOX
• Dancing With The Stars, ABC
• Project Runway, Bravo
• Top Chef, Bravo
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Saddam
• Marcia Gay Harden, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
• Janet McTeer, Into the Storm
• Jeanne Tripplehorn, Grey Gardens
• Cicely Tyson, Relative Stranger
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Len Cariou, Into the Storm
• Tom Courtenay, Little Dorrit
• Ken Howard, Grey Gardens
• Bob Newhart, The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice
• Andy Serkis, Little Dorrit
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
• Kenneth Branagh, Wallander: One Step Behind
• Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm
• Kevin Kline, Cyrano de Bergerac
• Ian McKellen, King Lear
• Kiefer Sutherland, 24: Redemption
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Andrew Davies, Little Dorrit
• Lt. Col Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) and Ross Katz, Taking Chance
• Michael Sucsy and Patricia Rozema, Grey Gardens
• David Simon, Generation Kill
• Hugh Whitemore, Into the Storm
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Susanna White, Generation Kill
• Michael Sucsy, Grey Gardens
• Thaddeus O'Sullivan, Into the Storm
• Dearbhla Walsh, Little Dorrit
• Ross Katz, Taking Chance
• Philip Martin, Wallander: One Step Behind
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries Or a Movie
• Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
• Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens
• Shirley MacLaine, Coco Chanel
• Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby
• Chandra Wilson, Accidental Friendship
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
• Prayers for Bobby, Lifetime
• Coco Chanel, Lifetime
• Grey Gardens, HBO
• Into the Storm, HBO
• Taking Chance, HBO
• Generation Kill, HBO
• Little Dorrit, PBS
Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music Or Comedy Series
• Bruce Gowers, American Idol
• Jerry Foley, Late Show With David Letterman
• Hal Grant, Real Time With Bill Maher
• Don Roy King, Saturday Night Live
• Jim Hoskinson, The Colbert Report
• Chuck O'Neil, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music Or Comedy Series
• The Colbert Report
• The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
• Late Night With Conan O'Brien
• Late Show With David Letterman
• Saturday Night Live
Outstanding Music and Lyrics
• 81st Annual Academy Awards, Song: "Hugh Jackman Opening Number"
• A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, Song: "Much Worse Things"
• The 2008 ESPYS, Song: "I Love Sports"
• Flight of the Conchords, Song: "Carol Brown"
• A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, Song: "I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus"
• Saturday Night Live, Song: "Motherlover"
Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series
• The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
• The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
• Late Show With David Letterman, CBS
• Real Time With Bill Maher, HBO
• Saturday Night Live, NBC
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
• Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
• Michael Emerson, Lost
• William Hurt, Damages
• Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
• William Shatner, Boston Legal
• John Slattery, Mad Men
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
• Rose Byrne, Damages
• Hope Davis, In Treatment
• Cherry Jones, 24
• Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
• Dianne Wiest, In Treatment
• Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
• Edward Asner, CSI: NY
• Ernest Borgnine, ER
• Ted Danson, Damages
• Michael J. Fox, Rescue Me
• Jimmy Smits, Dexter
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
• Brenda Blethyn, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
• Carol Burnett, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
• Ellen Burstyn, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
• Sharon Lawrence, Grey's Anatomy
• CCH Pounder, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
• Michael Rymer, Battlestar Galactica
• Bill D'Elia, Boston Legal
• Todd A. Kessler, Damages
• Rod Holcomb, ER
• Phil Abraham, Mad Men
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
• Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Lost
• Robin Veith, Matthew Weiner, Mad Men
• Matthew Weiner, Mad Men
• Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Matthew Weiner, Mad Men
• Kater Gordon, Matthew Weiner, Mad Men
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
• Glenn Close, Damages
• Sally Field, Brothers and Sisters
• Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
• Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
• Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
• Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
• Simon Baker, The Mentalist
• Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
• Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
• Michael C. Hall, Dexter
• Jon Hamm, Mad Men
• Hugh Laurie, House
Outstanding Comedy Series
• Entourage, HBO
• Family Guy, Fox
• How I Met Your Mother, CBS
• Flight of the Conchords, HBO
• The Office, NBC
• 30 Rock, NBC
• Weeds, Showtime
Outstanding Drama Series
• Big Love, HBO
• Breaking Bad, AMC
• Damages, FX
• Dexter, Showtime
• House, Fox
• Lost, ABC
• Mad Men, AMC