Big Buzz for Emmy Newcomers

"There's just nobody better to walk on that stage that night and be able to comment on it and bring a personal perspective on it," says Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of Sunday's festivities.

"Equally important, she knows how to handle a situation like this."

Four years ago, DeGeneres showed great poise hosting the show in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Ehrlich says.

The Gulf Coast disaster also figures in an Emmy tribute to news anchors -- the retired Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and the late Peter Jennings -- which is meant to showcase their contributions to TV reportage.

"We had designed this tribute long before the hurricane hit," Ehrlich says. "But it kind of added an extra layer of both currency, and, in a sense, import to it, because, you know, these are the three men for the last 40 years that we've seen the world through. It's going to make it an even more emotional, and, I think, more impactful segment."

To lighten things up, this year's show also includes a wacky celebrity singalong. This takeoff on "American Idol" -- dubbed "Emmy Idol" -- will feature "The Apprentice" star Donald Trump and "Will & Grace's" Megan Mullally singing the theme from "Green Acres."

In another unlikely duet, Gary Dourdan of "CSI" and Macy Gray will belt out "Movin' On Up" from "The Jeffersons." Also featured is Kristen Bell of "Veronica Mars" with her version of "Fame," and William Shatner of "Boston Legal" revisiting the "Star Trek" theme with the help of opera star Frederica von Stade.

The musical opening includes a performance by the Black Eyed Peas and Earth Wind & Fire, interspersed with TV highlights from the past year.

Here's how some key Emmy races shape up:

Drama Series: Last year, "The Sopranos" broke "The West Wing's" four-year winning streak. The White House drama has returned, but a ratings drop doesn't bode well for these beltway boys.

"Six Feet Under," another critics' darling, bowed off the air gracefully several weeks ago. But "Deadwood" is clearly HBO's best candidate. With its innovative real-time format and hunky Kiefer Sutherland, Fox's "24" has been a candidate for each of the four years it's been on the air. But as two of the most heavily nominated dramas, "Deadwood" and "Lost" figure to be slugging it out all evening.

Comedy Series: "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Will & Grace" are longtime favorites. But last season's ratings powerhouse, "Desperate Housewives" is brimming with buzz. Also nominated are Fox's "Arrested Development" and NBC's "Scrubs."

Actor, Drama Series: James Spader took his 2004 Emmy-winning character from "The Practice" -- ethically challenged attorney Alan Shore -- and now practices unscrupulously on "Boston Legal." But he's going to have a tougher time making a case for back-to-back victories.

Sutherland might be TV's No. 1 action hero, and "24" is only gaining momentum. The man to beat, however, is "Deadwood's" Ian McShane. Also in the mix are Hank Azaria of "Huff" and Hugh Laurie of "House."

Actress, Drama Series: Irony is on Glenn Close's side. She's spoken of as if she's won an Academy Award, but she might go down in history as an Emmy-winning actress and not an Oscar winner. Her turn as Capt. Monica Rawling on "The Shield" has gotten raves, and the cop drama has already proven to be an Emmy voters' favorite. (Close won her first Emmy in 1995 for a TV movie.)

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