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Oscar Begins For Real.. To 9 p.m.

By RD Heldenfels Published: March 5, 2006

Show opens with just the sort of fancy tech that this year's best-picture nominees are a reaction against.

Good opening gag with Billy Crystal and Chris Rock (and first ''Brokeback'' joke of the night), followed by a nice recap of previous hosts. Stewart with Halle is a good gag, too. We're off to a decent start.

Stewart's struggling with the monologue, though. By the Dick Cheney joke, he's getting sympathy applause. I'm sitting at home, and still found myself giving him a sympathy chuckle. The ''gay westerns'' clip reel had possibilities, but still fell flat.

And now .. the first award. Best supporting actor. George Clooney. ''All right, so I'm not winning director,'' he says, admitting what all the Oscar strategy-analysts in the audience are thinking. And he gives a pretty good speech, setting the bar early for the other acceptances.

Tom Hanks is a very funny man. But not in the acceptance-speech bit.

I was going to get some cake for the visual-effects award, only I had to stay when Ben Stiller came out in the green suit. And the effects-that-isn't-there gag is kind of amusing.

Blah, blah. The bowties on the Wallace & Gromit guys are cute but the adding them to the Oscars is forced.

Ooh, ooh, best song! Do horrors await? Well, there is whatever has happened to Dolly Parton's face. But the song itself is bland, and blandly presented.

I am losing track of how many times the camera has shown Jack Nicholson. Surely someone was clapping along to Dolly's song without looking either awkward (like Jack) or uncomfortable.

Chicken Little. Find a picture of ''American Idol's'' Kevin Covais, See how apt is Heather Cox's comparison of the two.

All right, around the best-costume stuff, I began to fade. Went elsewhere online for a moment. Cavs trail at the half by two.

Russell Crowe. He may have a bad rep in some circles, but he cleans up for the Oscars.

Want proof that comic actors have trouble getting respect from the movie industry? The Oscar graphic misspelled Will Ferrell's last name, Unfortunately, the makeup joke -- with Steve Carell -- didn't offer much reason to correct the spelling.

And we have gotten through the first hour -- ending with a long acceptance speech from some makeup guy,

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