How ironic is it that the very show that purports to give awards for achievements in television is itself horrible?

It started with canned “funny” clips projected above on such themes as asking comedians “what would your high school teachers say about you?” These clips lasted too long and, like the writing for host Jimmy Kimmel and the presenters, was awful. I’m not sure I saw a single line that genuinely made me laugh.

Following these pre-recorded interviews the presenter would immediately announce the winner of … what? “Wait, what category is this? is this best writing for a comedy? or is it best comedy?” I’d ask, completely confused about where we were in the program.

The only funny bits were those invented by the attendees on the fly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler switching their acceptance speeches — clearly a bit they’d cooked up between themselves — and Ricky Gervais, who obviously ignored what they’d written for him and went off on his own. Thank you, Ricky!

There was a particularly stupid moment when Josh Groban sang a “tribute” to host Kimmel. But that was no worse, really, than when Kimmel asked Tracy Morgan to come up on stage and lie there, as if he’d collapsed, to rein in an audience from Twitter. One might say that by getting Morgan on stage, we saw something other than a sea of white faces. Except that Morgan was prostrate and immobile.

Even worse, they spent so much time on these early-evening canned clips that by the end of the show, when they were getting to the very biggest awards (Best Drama Series, etc.), they had to rush through the lists of nominees so quickly one could hardly pause to consider. Isn’t the whole pleasure of watching an awards show to think, “If Mad Men doesn’t win, I’m going to throw a hissy fit”? I could barely absorb the list before they announced the winner and hustled hir through an acceptance speech. (In contrast to the early part of the show, which allowed winners to drone on incessantly.)

Also, how is it possible Lena Dunham didn’t win for best comedy writing for Girls?

Lest I sound like a big whiner — and lest you say, “well, what did you expect? It’s the Emmys!” — here’s my real point: the horrors of the Emmy Awards Show exemplify what’s going wrong with broadcast television overall. Writers have long noted the growing dominance of cable TV shows over broadcast network offerings, a dominance nowhere more evident than at the Emmys. It’s no longer just The Daily Show that wins an Emmy every year. The lists of nominees are dominated by premium channels like HBO and Showtime, of course, but also basic-cable stalwarts like AMC, TNT, and FX.

Broadcast TV’s ineptitude with this awards show is of a piece with its increasing incapacity to create decent shows. Broadcast TV has largely become, like trying to use the prone body of Tracy Morgan on stage at the Emmys as a “joke,” a tragically pathetic affair.

Which makes Modern Family‘s surprising wins last night in multiple categories all the more impressive. Now, I quite like that show (and especially Eric Stonestreet as Cam), but I have a hard time seeing its many awards as truly deserved given the strength of the competition (again, Girls.) So excuse me while I see Modern Family‘s success as the last gesture of good will to broadcast TV, while it is left behind by cable channels that throw their resources toward the unexpected.

A small moment of enlightenment: Maggie Smith won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her endlessly quotable role as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. Smith disdained to attend the show, so will receive her award presumably by international mail. So perhaps there is a god.

A few posts ago, I lamented a movie/TV world in which (again, to quote The Onion) women can be “sexy and tough. Sexy and smart. Sexy and professional.”  Sexy and enough of a right-on sheila to make a totally guy movie and win the Academy Award for Best Director.

At the risk of contradicting myself, I want to celebrate the return of the funny woman on TV — specifically in the form of Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family.” Let’s face it, folks: we don’t usually let our women be sexy and funny. This makes Vergara ever more of a delight, as she uses her crazy curvaceousness to be even funnier. Contrary to The Rules from way back in the 90s, which instructed women never to be funny lest they fail to snag a man, Vergara is terrific.

I’m not going to say she steals the show, which is a true ensemble cast of funny people (Eric Stonestreet deserves a paean of his own for his portrayal of Cameron); nor am I going to make too much of the show overall, which is distractingly entertaining yet light in the same manner as “30 Rock.” Rather, Vergara is perfect as the hot young trophy wife — who, once she establishes her part, doesn’t let the trophyness take over — of the aging Ed O’Neill character. She’s best when she’s sparring with him. “You’re too funny,” she tells him stone-faced when they’re fighting. “I’m going to share that one with my next husband when we’re spending all your money.” Then she slits her eyes, purses her lips, and looks to the camera for confirmation from the viewer — employing a physical humor that most gorgeous women won’t/can’t muster onscreen. Vergara is naturally funny.

Okay, invariably the writers draw heavily on two stereotypes: the Hot Latina and the Spanish-English disconnect. A lot of her lines are variants of the malapropism. When she sternly instructs her husband to be supportive of their son, she quotes the saying, “‘You be the wind in his back, not the spit in his face.'” She pauses, reconsiders the wording in English, and adds, “It’s gorgeous in Spanish.” If the show didn’t muster a whole array of cultural stereotypes (the prissy gay man, the exasperated housewife, the too-smart and slightly malicious middle child), I might feel the need to be offended. But in general the show takes no prisoners in the same manner that “The Simpsons” or “South Park” allowed stereotypes to set the stage rather than delimit their characters and scenarios.

I’m a big fan of Tina Fey, and I think Vergara follows in her footsteps. But “30 Rock” worked at cross-purposes in its early seasons: it got a lot of its humor from Liz Lemon’s attraction to meatball subs and Cheesy Blasters (which contained so many hormones that she got a false positive from a home pregnancy test), yet it kept putting Liz into gorgeous evening gowns, reminding us that Fey is really sexy despite her funniness, self-deprecation, and dietary weaknesses. What were they doing, trying to reassure us that “30 Rock” wasn’t just a “woman’s show”? (It’s a relief to see that more recently the show has abandoned that tendency, allowing Lemon to play up the physical humor with terrible haircuts, etc.)

In contrast, we take for granted Vergara’s character’s hotness — and then we let it go because she does funny things from there on out.  She’s a pleasure.