In Politicized Emmys, Reality & Cable Rule

In a lot of ways, it was business as usual: glammed-up actors, cut-short acceptance speeches, (many) musical interludes and contrived, if well-meaning, comic bits.

But two factors set apart the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards from Emmy ceremonies past: The changing landscape of television -- the rising cache of basic-cable and reality shows and the ever-evolving means of consuming TV -- and the looming presidential election that, arguably, has made Hollywood more politicized than ever before.

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The punches to the right came fast and frequent. Talking about how he and his co-hosts hadn't bothered to prepare an opening monologue and were getting no help from the teleprompter in front of them, Howie Mandel quipped,"We are like on Sarah Palin's 'bridge to nowhere,' that's where we are right now. The government can't even bail us out of this. We have nothing."

"I really look forward to the next administration, whoever it is," Jon Stewart said, accepting the best variety, music or comedy series award for "The Daily Show." "I have nothing to follow that. I just really look forward to the next administration."

Stephen Colbert relished his role as Stewart's conservative foil on "Comedy Central" when the the two took the stage to present. Cracking open a bag of prunes, Colbert drew a comparison between the wrinkly fruit and one presidential candidate saying, "America needs prunes. It may not be a young, sexy plum. Granted, it's shriveled and at times hard to swallow. But this dried-up, old prune has the experience we need."

It got more heated backstage. In case it wasn't clear already, Tina Fey elaborated on her feelings about Palin, whom she channeled to a T in a "Saturday Night Live" skit last week.

"I want to be done playing this lady Nov. 5. So if anyone could help me be done playing this lady Nov. 5, that would be good for me," she said.

"I was very resistant to acknowledge that there was a resemblance," Fey added. "Then my kid saw her on TV and said, 'That's mommy,' which was not great. So I was like, 'OK, I have to admit there is some resemblance.'"

Cable dominated the Emmys, and not just the big-budget Showtime and HBO productions. "Mad Men," AMC's drama about 1960s era ad execs, made history, becoming the first basic-cable show to win a best series Emmy. Drama acting Emmys went to Glenn Close and Zeljko Ivanek of FX's "Damages" and Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad."

For the first time, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized the men and women who emcee some of the most popular shows on TV, handing Emmy-hosting duties to the five inaugural best reality series host nominees: "Project Runway's" Heidi Klum, "Dancing With the Stars'" Tom Bergeron, "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest, "Deal or No Deal's" Mandel and "Survivor's" Jeff Probst, who took home the trophy.

"We feel honored to be part of this family. Thank you for letting reality in," Probst said, picking up his statue.

For the sixth time, the academy gave the award for best reality-competition to "The Amazing Race." The CBS series is now tied with Stewart's "The Daily Show" for most consecutive Emmys in a best series category.

Though, not everyone at the Emmys was singing reality TV's praises. Accepting his fourth award in four years for his role as uber-agent Ari Gold on "Entourage," Jeremy Piven went off on the hosts' improvised introduction, blurting out, "What if I just kept talking for 12 minutes? What would happen? That was the opening."

Later, backstage, Probst admitted Piven may have been right.

"Every time we'd have one idea, two people wouldn't like it and then we'd have another idea," he said. "That's why we ended up with nothing. Did that work? Hell if I know. … According to Piven, it clearly didn't."

Shows that don't dominate the ratings race on TV, like "Mad Men" and "30 Rock," drew many of the night's most prestigious awards. Both have stayed afloat in part because of a rabid online fan base, and Fey, "30 Rock's" star, writer and producer, made sure to give a nod to hers when accepting the Emmy for best comedy series: "'30 Rock' is available to be viewed on,, iTunes, Verizon phones, United Airlines and occasionally on actual television."

But even in Hollywood, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the ways we watch and latch onto TV in the age of YouTube, DVR and 1100-channel cable packages may be morphing, there's still something to be said for "actual television," inasmuch as it's the fastest route to fame.

Apparently, critical acclaim and and a starring role on basic cable haven't translated to that star swagger for "Mad Men's" John Hamm, who was nominated for a best drama actor Emmy. In real estate, it's location, location, location. On TV, it's exposure, exposure, exposure.

"I still feel like I'm in 10th grade and no one will talk to me at lunch," he said backstage.

Reporting contributed by ABC News Radio's Michelle Ruiz.