NEW YORK - The Emmy Awards - well, after 57 years you pretty much knew what to expect. But the Emmy Idol competition? That may have been more interesting than any long-anticipated award rivalries.
The evening's first Emmy Idol blew things wide open. Donald Trump belted out the theme from "Green Acres" (in overalls, holding a pitchfork) alongside Megan Mullally in her "Will & Grace" persona Karen Walker, squeaking out lyrics like "Give me Park Avenue."
This and three other performances were in the running, "American Idol" style, for viewer votes before the evening was done.
The theme from "Fame," with "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell showing her song-and-dance stuff, didn't have quite the same camp value. Nor did Gary Dourdan ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"), whose jaw seemed wired shut on "Movin' on Up" from "The Jeffersons" alongside R&B artist Macy Gray.
But William Shatner ("Boston Legal") was happy to ham it up teamed with opera's Frederica von Stade on the theme from his 1960s series "Star Trek."
Aired live Sunday by CBS from Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, the Emmycast brought back Ellen DeGeneres as host, four years after she handled those chores in the wake of 9/11. As she was then, DeGeneres was mindful of the nation's recent tragedy - in this case, Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm honored" to be back, she said. "And be sure to look for me next month when I host the North Korean People's Choice Awards."
DeGeneres was a comfortable, affable companion. Once again, she demonstrated her gift for mixing respect and silliness.
"Let's get our priorities straight," she said in her opening monologue, donning an earnest face. "We all know what's important in life." Beat. "Winning an Oscar." Dreamy smile. "Man, I'd love to host THAT show."
Even with material that too often fell flat, DeGeneres didn't. The Oscars could do worse.
As a presenter, satirist Jon Stewart showed why he (with "The Daily Show") had already been on the receiving end of two Emmys.
He introduced a pre-taped rant where he blasted officials for their slow response to Hurricane Katrina, with his remarks sloppily censored, twisted and intercut with plugs for CBS shows - all presumably to meet network and FCC standards. It was the comic high point of the night.
Among the best acceptances was a flustered S. Epatha Merkerson's, winning for best actress in a movie. She confessed that her prepared remarks had been lost in her decolletage, where she had placed them for safekeeping.
"It's down there!" she insisted, peering into her cleavage.
Aptly, it was "Late Show" host David Letterman who introduced a montage of clips of late-night king Johnny Carson (who died in January) after delivering his own tender tribute.
Then came honors for ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS' Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw - the troika of longtime network anchormen who all left their posts in the past year.
After a film collage of the three newsmen through the decades, Rather and Brokaw received a rare standing ovation, and both fondly remembered Jennings, who died last month of lung cancer.
"We had hoped that he would be here so that we could have a reunion tonight - a celebration," said Brokaw.
"It still comes as something of a shock to say that word 'we' in the absence brought by Peter's passing," Rather added.
As with any awards show, the big Emmys were handed out late in the show. Best actor. Best actress. Best series.
And Emmy Idol. The viewers spoke, and was it ever in doubt? And can "Trump: The Musical," with the Donald playing himself, be far away?