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Today's awards shows lack interest and spontaneity — but it didn't used to be that way. 

Emmy Ennui

The Oscars, the Tonys, the Emmys — they're all becoming boring beyond belief.

But it didn't used to be that way.

Take the recent 51st annual Emmy Awards telecast on Fox, which lasted three hours — three hours! At least it ended on time. And oddly enough, that may be the biggest part of the boredom problem.

Up until a few years ago, the awards shows stretched on until all the statuettes had been presented, however long that might have taken. But lately, in their frenzy to ensure that the awards shows end on time, the networks insist that the winners be given only about 30 seconds to have their say as they clutch their new mantel decorations. As a result, the only spontaneity now is in the ad libs the host manages to slip into the script.

When the master of ceremonies is somebody with a real sense of humor and timing, such as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, or — in the good old days — Bob Hope or Johnny Carson, there was usually a surprise or two and even a couple of hilarious moments. Remember the streaker who dashed across the stage behind David Niven during the 1974 Oscar show? "Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings," Niven suavely quipped. And then Henry Mancini cued the orchestra to play "Sunny Side Up."

But no more.

Now the shows move like freight trains with too little time to get from point A to point B.

And all we get from the winners, who might be expected to have something of interest to say on their big night, is 30 seconds of thanks to their producers, casts, crews, wives, husbands, kids and parents.

Occasionally a winner will try to break out of the pack. Jay Kogen, who won an Emmy this year for his writing for "Frasier," tried his best. "I got a lot of people to thank, and you're not going to play me off," he told the audience. "I want to thank my mentor, Sam Simon, who took a chance on a well-connected white kid." But when Kogen continued with his satiric speech, the director cut his microphone and the music swelled.

Emmy co-host Jenna Elfman got a few spontaneous laughs this year, one growing out of her own mistake. When she committed a vulgarism in pronouncing the third word in "New York City" she cleverly turned it into a slurring drunk act and slumped over the podium. Holland Taylor, who won a supporting actress award for playing Judge Kittleson on "The Practice," began her acceptance speech by saying "I'm so glad I wrote something." Then, as she peered myopically at her notes, she brought down the house when she said "I'm so sorry I can't see it." And Stanley Tucci, who won for his "Winchell" role, got a big laugh when he said "Thank you very much. You've made a big mistake."

Other than those few moments, the telecast was one big yawn. And from the "You know ..." Department, you know the show had to be small caliber/big bore when the funniest thing all evening was the Borden's cheese commercial that featured animated cows whistling the theme from "The Bridge Over the River Kwai." Kinda makes you long for the occasional streaker, doesn't
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