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Oscar who?

Maria Elena Fernandez Los Angeles Times

There’s a new kind of buzz in Hollywood this week, the kind typically reserved for a guy named Oscar and his movie stars. But this time, surprisingly, it’s all about television. Unlike movies, which have been in the doldrums, it’s been a big year for the small screen, with viewers flocking to sexy new shows such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.” Which means that the Emmy awards on Sunday are generating more heat than usual – and perhaps losing some of their stepchild status to the Academy Awards.

“There certainly seems to be a sense of fun about this year,” said Deborah Barrow, director of special projects for TV Guide and Inside TV, sister magazines that are throwing “the big party” on Emmy night at the renovated Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

“People are needing a good time,” Barrow said. “There’s a young aspect to a lot of the shows and the talent. People are excited about the nominations.”

But the Emmy ceremony comes at a time when the nation is only beginning to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which brought devastation to the Gulf Coast.

For the producers of the awards show, it means having to balance entertainment – including some new, offbeat features – with respect for the tragedy.

“This is an evolving kind of situation and what might have been appropriate a week ago might not be appropriate this week,” said Ken Ehrlich, a longtime Grammy producer tapped by CBS to spice up the Emmy show.

“Having Ellen DeGeneres as the host, who is from New Orleans, sets the tone right away that there will be a balance,” Ehrlich said. “One of the first things Ellen said to me after Katrina hit was that we still need to make people laugh without forgetting about what’s going on and not in any way taking away from its meaning.”

DeGeneres was lauded for how she handled hosting duties for the postponed post-9/11 Emmys in 2001.

At the Emmys, presenters and performers will wear magnolias, the state flower of both Louisiana and Mississippi. Information about donating to the recovery effort will be displayed throughout the telecast.

While moderating the tone of the show, Ehrlich hopes to add some sizzle to the Emmy broadcast, which, like other award shows, has been sliding in the ratings in recent years.

For example, there will be a viewer-participation contest called “Emmy Idol” that will pair the unlikeliest of performers to sing renditions of popular TV theme songs: Donald Trump and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”) will serve up “Green Acres”; William Shatner and opera star Frederica von Stade will sing the theme to “Star Trek”; Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) will perform “Fame”; and Macy Gray and Gary Dourdan (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) are going gospel with “Movin’ On Up” from “The Jeffersons.”

” ‘When you hear Donald Trump say, ‘You take Manhattan, give me wide, open spaces,’ that should be a huge line,” Ehrlich predicted. “This is all just for fun, and people need to have fun.”

The broadcast also will feature a tribute to the late Peter Jennings and retired news anchors Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, as well as a special homage to Johnny Carson.

“We will have plenty of laughs as well as poignant moments,” Ehrlich said. “I think this year in particular, not only due to world events, but also that there’s a fresh crop of nominees and some people that are probably going to walk up there and win their first Emmy, it sets the table for a pretty exciting show.”

Sunday’s big race is for best actress in a comedy series, with Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” competing with each other and Patricia Heaton (for the last season of “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm In The Middle”).

The hourlong “Desperate Housewives” is vying for best comedy series honors against the half-hour sitcoms that usually occupy the category. The other nominees: “Arrested Development,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace.”

Contenders for best drama series along with “Lost” are “Deadwood,” “Six Feet Under,” “24” and “The West Wing.”

Janice Min, editor in chief of Us Weekly, said she expects that “a lot of people would be tuning in this year who probably haven’t watched the Emmys in a few years because they suddenly have all these new favorite shows.

“In earlier years, you had ‘Friends,’ and ‘Sex and the City,’ but TV had such a great past 12 months, where you have these shows that really came in and filled the void.”

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