From history-making wins to Donald Trump singing "Green Acres" on stage, here are the most memorable things to happen at the Emmy Awards in the past two decades

By Andrea Wurzburger
September 18, 2020 12:30 PM
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The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards are upon us! This year's show will air on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 on ABC at 8:00 p.m. EST.Due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the star-studded event will take place virtually for the first time ever as Hollywood continues to adapt to the coronavirus crisis.

Over the years, the Emmys have had some incredible hosts, hilarious opening numbers and heartfelt acceptance speeches. In honor of the 2020 Emmy Awards, here are the most memorable moments of the past two decades ahead of Sunday's big show.

2000: The West Wing Sets Records

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Everyone was expecting The Sopranos to win big at the 2000 awards, but The West Wing had other plans. In 2000, the political drama was nominated for 10 Emmys and brought home six — including the Emmy for outstanding drama series. Alison Janney also won the first of her seven Emmys that night!

2001: Ellen DeGeneres Makes Us Laugh

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In 2001, the show was rescheduled twice after the 9/11 attacks, with concerns about how to strike the right tone in a time of national mourning. DeGeneres hosted the show and made everyone laugh memorably taking the mic wearing a recreation of Björk’s’s iconic swan dress.

2002: Jennifer Aniston Wins for Friends 

By 2002, Aniston had been charming audiences and making them laugh as Rachel Green in Friends, but she hadn't yet taken home an Emmy for her role. When she won, the star screamed, "THANK YOU!"

2003: Recreating an Iconic Kiss

In 2003, Britney Spears and Madonna made out on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards and it was the talk of the town. When the Emmys rolled around, Brad Garrett tried to recreate the magic, planting a kiss on Garry Shandling during the show's opening.

2004: Sarah Jessica Parker Wins for Sex & the City

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After playing the iconic Carrie Bradshaw for six years, we couldn't help but wonder, "Why hadn't Sarah Jessica Parker gotten an Emmy?" Can you blame us?! She had been nominated 10 times! In 2004, her losing streak ended, and the actress took home a statuette for outstanding lead actress in a comedy.

2005: Donald Trump sings "Green Acres"

Alongside Megan Mullally in character as her Will & Grace character Karen Walker, the now-president sang the theme from Green Acres, showing off his ... vocal abilities? The pair performed as part of a skit called Emmy Idol, in which everyone from William Schatner to Kristen Bell showcased their talents.

2006: Conan O'Brien Locks Bob Newhart in a Glass Cylinder on Stage

To keep everyone in line when it came to keeping their acceptance speeches short, host Conan O'Brien brought beloved actor Bob Newhart onto the stage, put him in a glass cylinder and informed the audience it only had three hours of air supply - so anyone who went long was directly responsible for putting Bob's life at risk.

2007: Sally Fields Gives a Controversial Acceptance Speech

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While accepting her award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for Brothers & Sisters, Field took the last few seconds of her speech to speak out against the Iraq War. She said emphatically, “If the mothers ruled the world, there would be no g—— wars in the first place." Fox, the network that was broadcasting the show, censored the comment.

2008: Heidi Klum Takes a Tumble

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Klum shared hosting duties with Tom Bergeron, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest, but was the only one of the five to leave the ceremony bruised! During an unrehearsed bit with former Dancing with the Stars host Bergeron, she swooned, falling into his arms ... and landing right on the floor.

2009: Kristin Chenoweth's Honest Acceptance Speech

After winning the award for supporting actress in a comedy for her role in Pushing Daisies, Chenoweth reminded everyone through tears, "I'm unemployed now, so I'd like to be on Mad Men. I also like The Office and 24." This is also the year that every actress nominated (except Vanessa Williams) donned a different pair of silly glasses as their names were announced, which marked the first of several silly bits for this category in years to come.

2010: Jimmy Fallon's Opening Number

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Jimmy Fallon channeled Bruce Springsteen for a rousing rendition of "Born To Run" with the cast of Glee, featuring everyone from Jon Hamm and Tina Fey to Randy Jackson and Kate Gosselin. It was both ridiculous and perfect, everything you want an opening number of an awards show to be.

2011: And The Winner Is...

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The nominees for outstanding lead actress in a comedy decided to demonstrate their comedy chops rightin the middle of the ceremony. When Amy Poehler's name was announced, instead of sitting and smiling for the camera, she walked up onto the stage. That would've been funny on its own, but then the other women followed suit, standing on the stage, fanning themselves and holding hands as if they were in a pageant. When Melissa McCarthy's name was called, they all cheered for her, awarding her with a crown, flowers and her Emmy.

We just want to know if they called each other to plan it the night before or all met up on the red carpet and decided to make this bit happen.

2012: The Female Comedians Strike Again

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After their big pageant stunt the year before, the women comedians had to keep the tradition of being perfectly silly alive. They did so in a few ways: Tina Fey pretended to lose her eye glasses, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Amy Poehler pretended to swap their acceptance speeches and Melissa McCarthy had some hilarious one-liners while presenting with Mindy Kaling.

2013: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Stays in Character

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When she won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for her role in Veep, the actress was followed by her costar and fictional personal assistant, Tony Hale, who did his job holding her clutch and reminding her who to thank (including her family).

2014: Bryan Cranston Makes Sure Julia Louis-Dreyfus Remembers Him

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The Veep star actually started off the bit, pretending that she didn't recognize Cranston from his time appearing on Seinfeld as they presented the award for outstanding lead actor in a comedy. Cranston reminded her, "That was me." Still stumped? "We actually had a kissing scene together," he told her; she still feigned confusion. Cranston continued the bit when he grabbed her as she went up to accept her Emmy (for lead actress in a comedy series) and planted a huge kiss on her. Once on stage with her Emmy, the actress remarked, "Yeah, he was on Seinfeld."

2015: Tracey Morgan Makes a Triumphant Comeback

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Morgan, who had been critically injured during a car crash in 2014, made his comeback at the 2015 Emmy Awards, where he presented the final award of the night for outstanding drama series. He was greeted by a standing ovation and told the crowd, "I miss you guys so much. Last year, Jimmy Kimmel stood on this stage and said, 'We’ll see you back here next year, Tracy Morgan.' Well, Jimmy, thanks to my amazing doctors and the support of my family and my beautiful new wife, I’m here."

Honorable mention goes to Viola Davis's incredibly powerful speech, which she delivered after making Emmy history as the first Black Woman to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series:

2016: The Stranger Things Kids Perform

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The Stranger Things kids were everywhere in 2016, and the put their newfound stardom to good use when they performed "Uptown Funk" at the Emmy's pre-show. Hey, Stranger Things have happened!

2017: Sean Spicer Shows Up

After (falsely) claiming Trump's inauguration crowd was the largest audience in history to ever witness an inauguration, "period," his very heated press conferences became fodder for Saturday Night Live, where the former Press Secretary was played by Melissa McCarthy. That year, McCarthy was nominated for her turn hosting the show (and her impression), and Spicer showed up in the opening monologue, much to everyone's surprise. Don't worry, he made sure everyone knew that the Emmy's audience was "the largest audience to witness an Emmys ... period."

2018: Kate McKinnon & Kenan Thompson Lead an Opening Number About Diversity

Another great opening number for the Emmys: the SNL cast members led a song mocking Hollywood's attempt at becoming diverse and inclusive, and the idea that they somehow "Solved It." Notable moments: Sandra Oh (who was the first Asian woman nominated for a lead actress Emmy) deadpanning to the camera "It's an honor just to be Asian," Andy Samberg floating onto the stage on a giant moon to ask if Hollywood still cared about straight white men and RuPaul delivering a phone call to Thompson that they had, in fact, not "Solved It" and then getting mad because he only had one line.

2019: Fleabag Wins Big

The show that took 2019 by stormFleabag was nominated for an impressive 11 awards total, taking home six! It won for outstanding comedy series, as well as for writing, casting, directing and single-camera editing for a comedy series, and the show's creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge took home outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. Talk about a sweep!

Stay tuned for Sunday's broadcast for what is sure to be a surprising night of Zoom reunions and glimpses into A-listers' homes you never could have imagined.

The 72nd Emmy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are airing live on ABC from 8-11 p.m. ET.

Catch People (the TV show!) Monday through Friday. Check your local listings for exact times or stream the show every day at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT at People.com and PeopleTV.com.