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Red Hot

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Perhaps it was the flush of newlywed passion. Or the desire to don Jezebel red after bridal white. Whatever the reason, brand-new wives Jennifer Aniston and Debra Messing wore strikingly similar strapless red gowns to the 52nd annual Emmy Awards, held Sept. 10 at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. “I didn’t plan ahead,” insisted the Prada-clad Friends nominee, accompanied by hubby Brad Pitt (sporting a jaunty necklace that spelled out “JEN” in beads). Will & Grace nominee Messing offered a simple salutation to the designer who created her wedding and Emmy gowns: “Thank you, Miss [Vera] Wang.”

If some gowns looked the same, this year’s show didn’t—thanks to punchy sketches from first-time host Garry Shandling, a record sweep by new series The West Wing (“We got the championship!” exulted star Martin Sheen), an emotional homage to Spin City‘s recently retired Michael J. Fox (best comedy actor), and the highest Emmy viewership—21.6 million—since 1986. Especially blown away were Once and Again star Sela Ward, who won best drama actress (“I was really shocked!”) and West Winger Allison Janney, who won best supporting drama actress. “First it looked like I was doing the worst double take ever,” declared the Pamela Dennis-garbed Janney, “and then it looked like I was going to throw up.”

Amid the parade of flashbulb-popping fashions, the color red emerged as the night’s major trend. “I wanted to match the red carpet,” quipped Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, aflame in a body-hugging Valentino. (Joked husband John Stamos: “I told her I saw her in something pink with beads, but Rebecca wasn’t happy about me getting into her fashion. She said that was a little swish of me.”) Also riding the crimson tide: Ally McBeal‘s Calista Flockhart (ruffled in Alberta Ferretti), Frasier guest star Jean Smart (looking just that in Escada) and Saturday Night Live‘s Molly Shannon (in a strapless Anne Bowen gown). Even stars not wearing red sported a scarlet hue, courtesy of a blazing sun overhead. “I’m very warm,” admitted Will & Grace nominee Eric McCormack. “My shirt is soaked.”

Likely feeling much cooler was Geena Davis, who bared just about all in a tissuepaper-thin Pamela Dennis while feigning surprise at its transparency: “No one told me—oops!” Sex and the City‘s Kristin Davis was also well-ventilated, noting that her gown’s panty-line-phobic designer, Richard Tyler, “forbids me to wear underwear.” Davis also confessed to a minor fashion crisis before the ceremony: “I got body lotion on my dress right before we left!” (Quick-thinking costar Cynthia Nixon came to the rescue with a baby wipe.) More relaxed was Frasier‘s Randolph Duke-clad Jane Leeves, who declared, “It’s easier getting dressed when you’re pregnant. You don’t have to worry I about holding in your stomach.”

After the three-hour ceremony, the evening’s luminaries did the requisite party thing. Noshing at HBO’s fete at Spago, nominee Sarah Jessica Parker revealed the secret to her sleek, pulled-back do—a well-hidden clip—before giggling with presenters Julianna Margulies and Lucy Liu, while Tuesdays with Morrie winner Hank Azaria (recently split from wife Helen Hunt) savored the celeb quotient: “How many nights do you get to have movie stars come up and hug you?” Law & Order‘s Jesse L. Martin, who turned up with costar Angie Harmon, captured the moment. “We’re going to shake it and break it,” proclaimed a buoyant Martin, “and then we’re going to go home.”

Michelle Tauber

Karen Brailsford, Steven Cojocaru, Tom Cunneff, Alison Gee, Julie Jordan, Ulrica Wihlborg and Paula Yoo in Los Angeles