In the typical Hollywood awards season, the Screen Actors Guild Awards is kind of a second-string player. It’s hardly an afterthought — nothing with as much star power as it typically draws could be — but compared to the industry-spanning Golden Globes and Oscars, the more narrowly focused Actors (that’s what the trophy’s called, the Actor) don’t get as much heat.

This year? Not so. With the writers’ strike having 86’ed the Globes, the SAGs take center stage — and with a waiver from the guild to have union writers work on the show, something that’s immediately apparent with the "I’m an actor" testimonials from the likes of Sally Field, Jane Krakowski, Rebecca Romijn, Doug Savant and Kyle MacLachlan.

The night’s first award goes to James Gandolfini, whose peers bestow a final honor on the Sopranos star after his unjust Emmy snub (and equally unjust non-nomination at the Globes). Uncomfortable in the spotlight as ever, he says a quick and dignified thanks and gets off stage.

All that before 8:10 p.m. Eastern time. Here’s how the rest of the night went down.

8:12 p.m. Award No. 2 goes to Gandolfini’s co-star, Edie Falco, who’s as gracious as she usually is in accepting awards. She’s had some practice, after all. No mention of the writers yet.

8:18 p.m. Man, that was one long MasterCard ad. We pause now for the ubiquitous Blair Underwood to give us a SAG history lesson. The guild is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, so expect more of those tonight.

8:22 p.m. Nice shades, Karev.

8:23 p.m. Sopranos sweep? Yep. And you what? That’s cool. It would’ve been nice to see, say, the uniformly good cast of Mad Men get this one, but seriously, how can you argue with that? Gandolfini begs off, handing the trophy to Tony Sirico, who improvs fairly nicely. And hey — our first writer mention! Sirico gives a last-second shout-out to creator David Chase.

8:29 p.m. The night’s first movie award: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men. He is substantially less creepy than in the film, and his anecdote about actors formerly not being allowed to be buried on consecrated ground only makes me like him more.

[Confession time: My official position on covering awards shows is one of jaded disinterest, especially when I have to be in the press tent out back. But I have to admit, part of me rather enjoys seeing all these people together and sitting on the couch with my girlfriend debating who looks good and who doesn’t. Also, watching the E! pre-show, I learned that two of tonight’s nominees, Steve Carell and Hal Holbrook, attended the same college as my parents, Denison University in Ohio. So I’m sort of glad the Writers Guild granted the waiver to SAG, which has backed the WGA strike wholeheartedly.]

8:38 p.m. Also on the E! pre-show, 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey said she couldn’t exactly remember when she got her SAG card. I think the award will probably have the date stamped on it, though. "I want to thank anyone in the Screen Actors Guild for considering me an actor at all." Hee. As she’s also a WGA member, she remembers to thank SAG for supporting the writers.

8:41 p.m. I’m sensing a trend in the TV categories, as Alec Baldwin picks up the best actor-comedy series award moments after Fey wins hers for 30 Rock.

8:44 p.m. Jeanne Tripplehorn, where did your eyebrows go?

8:46 p.m. We break the TV sweep trend, as the cast of The Office wins its second straight ensemble award. Jenna Fischer says "they voted me to speak," and classily dedicates the award to the crew, saying "We can’t wait to work with you again."

8:49 p.m. I really want one of these.

8:53 p.m. It makes sense that Underwood is delivering the SAG history bits, as he is just about the busiest actor around. Dude’s on three shows: Dirty Sexy Money, Old Christine and In Treatment.

8:55 p.m. After the obligatory speech from SAG President Alan Rosenberg, Denis Leary introduces Lifetime Achievement award winner Charles Durning. It’s cool to see a character actor like Durning get an honor like this — usually it’s the high-wattage stars who get them, but guys like Durning are often the best parts of the films or shows they do.

9:04 p.m. Man, this guy’s been in everything, hasn’t he?

9:09 p.m. "That’s it?" Charles Durning is now my new favorite person.

[Going back to that earlier stuff about the red carpet, how much speculation do you think Angelina Jolie‘s very flowy, voluminous dress is going to cause? As the g.f. pointed out, all the better to fuel the is-she-or-isn’t-she pregnant talk.]

9:16 p.m. All the nominees for male TV movie actor are first-timers. Kind of surprising, given the depth of the field: Michael Keaton, Kevin Kline, Oliver Platt, Sam Shepard and John Turturro. Kline wins, for HBO’s As You Like It.

9:20 p.m. Mickey Rooney takes the stage, which gives me an excuse to link to this account of his hijacking of a press tour session from a couple years back that also included Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar and Rose Marie. I have to say, though, if I’m in anywhere near that good shape when I’m 87, I’ll count myself pretty damn lucky.

9:25 p.m. Shoot. I really wanted the visual of Queen Latifah accepting her award from the Mickster.

9:27 p.m. The obit montage is especially poignant, given the number of actors who only recently died: Suzanne Pleshette, Allan Melvin and, of course, Heath Ledger, who’s the final person listed.

9:37 p.m. Viggo Mortensen’s beard makes him look like a conquistador.

9:38 p.m. Ruby Dee was very good in American Gangster, but man, the trophy is gonna be almost as big as she is. The SAG statue is just about the biggest award in Hollywood.

9:40 p.m. One more nice thing about the SAG Awards: No one gets played off the stage. So we get to hear Ruby Dee speak on her late husband, the great Ossie Davis. And I bet the show still gets in at no more than a couple minutes over the two-hour mark.

9:49 p.m. Are you cold, Matthew McConaughey?

9:51 p.m. Absolutely no surprise here: Daniel Day-Lewis wins for his gloriously unhinged performance in There Will Be Blood. And I daresay no one but him could get away with the funky lapel on his tuxedo jacket. We have the first spoken tribute of the night to Ledger, too, to whom he dedicates his award.

9:56 p.m. "Where do I go?" best movie actress winner Julie Christie says when Forest Whitaker announces her name. We get our first union message in the better part of an hour, a sweet little tribute to writer-director Sarah Pollley, and a nice joke to end things.

10 p.m. Tom Cruise? How come?

10:01 p.m. Nice that they let Josh Brolin do the acceptance for No Country for Old Men‘s ensemble award. As good as Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones are, he’s pretty much the center of the film and hasn’t been getting enough recognition for it.

And that’s a wrap. Did you enjoy the SAG Awards? Were you happy to see the stars once again in their natural habitat?

Posted by:Rick Porter