Last year’s Emmy host, Ellen DeGeneres, deserved the acclaim she received after hosting the first post-Sept. 11 awards show. But this year, Conan O’Brien topped her and all previous hosts.

Among the targets of Conan’s humor at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards: Anna Nicole Smith, the major TV networks, award winners who dedicate their awards to another nominee and O’Brien’s own ex-colleague, Andy Richter.

Conan’s brilliant performance, including a brief opening sketch with the Osbournes, saved the show from shooting itself in the foot. The presenters, including the less than thrilling pairing of “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Frankie Muniz and Robert Wuhl of “Arli$$,” were dull as usual. A tribute to television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth and a speech by former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani also bogged down what began as an energetic show.

The majority of the awards given were predictable, including several victories for “Everyone Loves Raymond,” HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and Albert Finney for “The Gathering Storm.” One of the few surprises was Michael Chiklis’ outstanding lead actor award for FX’s rookie show, “The Shield.”

Still, Conan promised changes and he delivered. Threatening to play Jethro Tull music if the acceptance speeches went too long, diagramming the types of people in the audience (including “Jerry Orbach’s posse” and “parasites and sycophants”) or having fun with the cameraman, Conan’s amusement was infectious. His monologue was as funny as any he has done on his late-night show.

Between the standard tributes to the lost TV stars of the past year (including a tribute to Milton Berle), Oprah Winfrey received the inaugural Bob Hope Humanitarian Award and Sting became an Emmy winner.

The biggest overall winner of the evening was “The West Wing,” with victories for John Spencer, Allison Janney and Stockard Channing, and outstanding drama. Its fellow NBC show, “Friends,” took home a pair of awards as well.

The night’s major winners:

Outstanding Drama Series: “The West Wing”

Outstanding Comedy Series: “Friends”

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy: Ray Romano, “Everyone Loves Raymond”

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy: Jennifer Aniston, “Friends”

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama: Michael Chiklis, “The Shield”

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama: Allison Janney, “The West Wing”

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