First stop, the Golden Globes. Of all the many (many) stops on my tour last year, none lived up to the excitement of the season's kick-off.
While the manic energy of being in a room with 200 madly hobnobbing celebs and their 3,000 frantic handlers and cling-ons is hardly what you'd call cozy, it makes for a night to remember.
And so, tux affixed, notebook secured, I go once more into the breach.
Baby, it's cold outside
A vicious morning chill still hangs in the air as Redcarpetland undergoes its final construction phases at 11 a.m. Although RCL will begin receiving its first celebrities in a mere three hours and huge pieces seem missing still, the army of workers scuttle about in focused but unpanicked fashion.
Wrapping around the circular Beverly Hilton driveway, Redcarpetland is lined by the row set up for the print and second-tier TV press on one side and the monumental gazebos being constructed for the giants of the industry – "Acces Hollywood," "The Insider," "Extra" – on the other.
As early reports begin to be filed, shivering women in strapless gowns plant themselves along the road. The titans arrive in phalanx with entourage for sound checks – Pat O'Brien in tux and sunglasses idles patiently by his gazebo, Ryan Seacrest in puffy parka and sunglasses leads a boisterous group into position.
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I chat with Megan Haggerty and Kathy Moster of Chicago as they are being ushered to their seats in the seven rows of bleachers set up for screaming fans. The pair scored their tickets by calling a Hollywood Foreign Press Association hotline number the day after last year's show.
They paid $2,000 for the pair of seats in the last row of bleachers, plus two nights at the Beverly Hilton and a L'Oreal gift basket. Moster is most excited to see Johnny Depp; Haggerty for the "Grey's Anatomy" cast. They report that they've already seen lots of stars wandering around the hotel, and watched MTV's Vanessa Manilo tape a report. Moster says most of the stars they've seen have been very nice and welcoming.
The carpet comes alive
Returning three hours later, Redcarpetland is a manic beehive of activity. Publicists scurry madly about, neck-craning fans squeeze to the edge of the security cordon in the hotel lobby, lights shine bright from the TV gazebos. Along the opposite wall, reporters and camera crews lean, waiting for the parade.
As is typical for the early stages, the red carpet is filled with mostly C-list stars cruising at dangerously slow speeds past the press, all too obviously crying out to be interviewed.
Tim Gunn from "Project Runway," working here as a reporter for "The Today Show," puzzles over these alleged starlets he fails to recognize. "They are all cast to types," he opines, "not as individuals so they are completely interchangeable"
A collective sigh of relief warms the frigid air as the first genuines -- the cast of "Heroes" -- hits the shag. Cheerleader Hayden Panettiere nears Gunn's station in a Grecian goddesses get-up. "She's gorgeous. Perfect," Gunn remarks.
Her co-star, Ali Larter, holds a conversation nearby, revealing that she started working out with her trainer at 7 a.m., but that he, "keeps it really positive."
Also interesting, a team of French motorcycle police line the aisles in full dress regalia. They seem to be serving as the security force here, or at least the decorative security detail, while the guys with the earpieces and sleeve mikes do the grunt work.
As the the planet's greatest concentration of beauty and glamour slowly breaks off the carpet and makes its way into the ballroom, a swarthy, overweight, middle-aged man stops traffic dead. As Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight on "The Office" passes the man, he freezes and gasps, "Oh my God, it's the guy from Borat."
It is indeed the guy from Borat, the naked producer from Borat to be exact. Speaking in uninflected perfect American English, Ken Davitian graciously greets his admirers, seeming genuinely thrilled to be in the room.
He gets more than he likely bargained for as John Stamos relates to him an unprintable story about being told during an intimate moment of Mr. Davitian's unclad screen prowess, a story that, Stamos says, brought his enthusiasm for the unfolding intimacy to a rapid end.
Sitters never win
The final pre-show countdown gets under way. With three minutes to go, the room is pandemonium, celebs flooding in. Parades of unlikely juxtapositions collide as the announcer begs the room to be seated. The "Grey's Anatomy" table toasts themselves, while not far away the "Studio 60" crew looks somber and glum.
Clint Eastwood strides in, looking unhurried as ever, and even at his age, he's a man not to be trifled with. Publicists rush their charges to their tables. One tells Jamie Foxx there is a rumor that Prince is throwing a party in Foxx's suite. Foxx laughs. Sharon Stone stumbles past with date Dominick Dunne.
A poignant moment amidst the mayhem: Jim from "The Office" walks in and stands at the top of some stairs, looking around for his table. Pam from "The Office" sees him enter, flies over and beckons him from the bottom of the stairs. As he starts to walk towards her, his attention is distracted by a woman in a silver evening gown and he is pulled off in another direction, leaving Pam standing awkwardly alone. Life imitates art all too faithfully.
With seconds to go, Helen Mirren strides in. The lights go dark for the pre-show tape and the army of publicists race off the floor. And suddenly George Clooney is handing out the first award.
The schmooze must go on
After a valiant attempt lasting all of 10 or 15 minutes to sit up straight and pay attention to the show, a good part of the audience decides its time to party and adjourns to the bar just off the back of the ballroom. A growing roar begins at this spot, until gradually it swallows the sound and focus of the show.
In the bar, "24" star Mary Lynn Rasjkub who plays Chloe, the show's prickly computer savant, shares her disgruntlement with co-star Kim Raver. Contrary to her expectations of spending a night with her colleagues (collectively nominated for Best Dramatic Series) Rasjkub finds she has been seated in a distant wing, far from the official show table, with a group of strangers. She confesses to being in a "dark place" about it.
When the show's mega-producer, Brian Grazer, enters and says hello, she does not hesitate to accuse him of stealing her seat. Grazer good humouredly denies all, telling her that "My Name is Earl" star Jason Lee, who has mysteriously been placed at the "24" table, is the real culprit and seat thief.
In any event, the night does not go so badly for Rasjkub as she keeps the party going in the bar. She soon receives gushing fan visitations from Geena Davis (the tallest human in the room, by far), Sean "P Diddy" Combs, (who tells her she is "one hundred percent true gangster") and a member of the show's security team, who tells Rasjkub that he formerly worked for the NYPD's counter-terrorism squad and that "24" has it "exactly right."
The big question Looking around the room, we know who the super-glamorous famous looking people are. And the stiff-looking types in power suits are self-evident Hollywood characters. But what about the man in a white tux, with giant sequin-adorned glasses and matching shoes. Or the woman in the poodle dress (black with circles of white fur) who seems another fringe hanger-oner, until she gets an amazingly warm greeting from Zach Braff. (But what does it mean, exactly, if Zach Braff knows you?).
And then there is a woman of a certain age, adorned with spare-no-expense, quadruple-plus sized body adornments and clad in a tighter-than-skin blouse made of alternate rows of mesh and velvet. Unfortunately about midway through the show, the rows drift out of position and she is aggressively working the room while her enhancements are front and center for all to bear witness, with only a thin layer of mesh protecting them.
Meeting of the moguls
An overheard conversation between Brian Grazer and Donald Trump:
Trump: I'm getting a star tomorrow (on the Hollywood Walk of Fame)
Grazer: I've got one.
Trump: Oh really?
Grazer: Where is yours?
Grazer: That's a good spot.
Trump: That's what they tell me.
Grazer: It's great to show your kids.
State of disorder
The party continues in the back of the room, brought to a halt not at all by Warren Beatty's honorary award but entirely by Sasha Baron Cohen's speech. Actress Paget Brewster walks past claiming, "I'm no drunker than everyone else here."
It is abundantly clear, wandering the room, that the TV people in the second and third rings from the center, are a million times more fun then the staid movie people in the center pit.
At commercial breaks, Rupert Murdoch stands at his table and surveys the room with what seems a mournful sadness, an island of calm amidst the whirlwind. On the men's room line, L.A. Police Chief William Bratton shakes Murdoch's hand – a true power schmooze conducted as chevaliers of a simpler time know how.
When asked about her show coming up empty tonight, "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan tells me, "If I cared about the opinions of 90 foreign strangers, I'd be a hooker outside the U.N."
And so the show lurches towards a close. "Babel" and "Dreamgirls" win the big prizes, sparking little more than mild whaddyaknows from the crowd. And then, after cashing in ticket stubs for gift bags, it's on to the parties.