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Venue Was Ready for Prime Time

Behind-the-scenes preparations at the L.A. landmark take a cast of hundreds and a sleepless night or two for the facility's harried special projects manager.


The leggy starlets and chiseled leading men who came to the 54th annual Emmy Awards on Sunday had a lot riding on the ceremony.

But whether they walked away with a statuette or not, no one's kicking them off the celebrity circuit. For the staff that runs the Shrine Auditorium, the stakes are higher, if less glamorous.

The Emmy Awards is the Shrine's biggest gig, and if the hall's staff blows it--if the right door doesn't open, the wrong sink blocks up--well, there are plenty of other venues in town.

The Shrine staff has a policy of not running down rival halls--a joking reference to "Building X" is about as far as it will go--but the staff is all too aware of the Kodak Theatre and Staples Center, which have recently landed the Oscars and Grammy Awards, respectively. There's pressure to do it right.

Much of this pressure comes down on one man, special projects manager Andy Stamatin. If something goes wrong, it's his neck. A short, intense, bald guy built like a wrestler, Stamatin, 54, has been working at the Shrine for 12 years. He knows the building and its history inside out, but this is his first time in charge.

Early Sunday, the area around the auditorium, which covers almost three acres, looks like occupied territory, jammed with trailers, NBC production staff toting walkie-talkies, plainclothes cops, and a small army of Pinkerton guards in black-and-white uniforms. Security alone is several hundred people. Inside the hall, there are hundreds of cooks, dishwashers and waiters to handle the food. There's a maintenance staff and platoons of production staffers. Stamatin is in charge only of the Shrine itself, but he's got to make sure all these gears mesh smoothly.

"What might seem to be minor to some people becomes extremely important," he says early Sunday, sitting at a desk with three different walkie-talkies, a TV tuned to security cameras, and in front of the closet where he keeps more than 100 sets of keys. Outside his office, host Conan O'Brien paces past in faded jeans and a sweatshirt. "The trash bins, for heaven's sake--if it's filled up, where do we put the garbage? In a place this big it could turn into a monster. And parking--important people need a place to park. It's all these logistics."

On Sunday, Stamatin woke up from a couch backstage at the Shrine at about 1:30 a.m., to make sure the Shrine's new exterior lights, rigged in palm trees and on pillars, were working so "The Today Show" could tape a pre-show at 4 a.m. "I went to bed thinking about the lights," Stamatin says. "Will they stay on? They're new; you know you worry when something's new. 'Did somebody trip over a plug?' "

No crisis evident, Stamatin stole a few more hours of sleep before rolling off the couch about 5. "It was beautiful, it was peaceful," he says. "That's a good sign."

It's not peaceful now. He's racing through the lobby and up some stairs to open an extra kitchen. An elevator is stuck on the second floor; he fixes it. With two radios stuffed in his pants pocket, his body buzzes and hisses with static, strange voices.

A few minutes later he's in an alcove making sure 4,000 programs are hauled to the right place near the door. Then he's running back through the lobby to check with security and make sure everything's OK. A few hundred ushers are due any minute. He's called emergency medical services, been handed bills for tuxedo rentals, lined up passes and access for all his people, with special badges to get the maintenance crew into bathrooms near the Governors Ball awards dinner. "It gets a little wild," he says. "It's a controlled wild--everybody knows what they're doing."

When Stamatin's not worrying about the show, he worries about the building, especially since it's just been though a $10-million face lift. Stamatin loves historic buildings and takes pleasure in seeing them restored and preserved: He's hoping the new tile outside the lobby doesn't get torn up, that the newly polished wooden floors don't get scratched. "You're hanging lights and speakers that are thousands of pounds," he says. "If you don't protect the seats, they can get destroyed."

(As if to underscore the pressure of the night for Stamatin and the Shrine, Bryce Zabel, president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, spoke backstage about the possibility of moving the Emmy Awards to a new theater across the street from Staples Center.)

Stamatin came to the Shrine after moving from job to job in Alaska, Washington and Hawaii. The highlight of his past life was a stab at stand-up comedy and acting in the early 1980s that didn't quite work out. "It's like a lot of people in this town: If they tell you they're a writer or an actor, you ask them what restaurant they work at." He did props comedy, coming on stage with a shoe in the lapel pocket of his suit, ending it lighted up like a robot.

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