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Sharing Laughter ... Sharing Tiers

Awards* For those at the Emmys, seeing the stars in action was a great experience--even from the nose-bleed section.


Emmy night--it's just part of the job for the stars and includes hours of pre-show preening, a basic limo ride, roughly three hours in the spotlight, a whirlwind round of glamorous after-parties and, if they're very lucky, a gold statuette.

But for the average folks who scored tickets in the upper reaches of the second balcony--far from the glitz of the main floor--it's another matter entirely.

"I'm a middle-school teacher on the trip of a lifetime," said Lynette Gonzales of the San Francisco Bay Area, as she made her way to balcony seats at Sunday night's ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium. "I'm so impressed with everything. Just seeing all those limos lined up ... a roomful of people who are so glamorous. It's just a fantasy."

Gonzales and her husband, Mike, a community college counselor, bought tickets through a friend in the TV industry. She said she was trying to memorize every moment of the evening to share with her eighth-graders when she returned home: "It's just so grand that it's just what I imagined it would be."

Anyone can buy tickets to the awards, but they're not cheap. Balcony seats, which are far enough away to require binoculars, are as much as $300 each.

But that wasn't enough to discourage Chip Morton, a Destin, Fla., investment banker. He bought tickets five days before the event to help celebrate his wife's 30th birthday. During the show Morton met Steve Brass, a computer-systems specialist from Dallas, who flew out to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. The two men were killing time in the lobby between commercial breaks, trying to find invites to some of the networks' after-parties. They stood amid a flock of guests in rented tuxedos and sequined gowns, who ate $4 shrimp kebabs and mini beef dumplings, while sipping wine and complaining about the heat. (Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles soared into the 90s on Sunday.)

Downstairs near the ladies room, Nikol Reinkey, 18, gushed over the show with her cousin, Kristi Marx. "It's so, like, surreal," said Marx, 23, a student from Chicago. "I know," said Reinkey, adjusting a full-length black dress--a gown she wore a few months ago to her senior prom. Reinkey's job in NBC's mail room set the girls apart from the nosebleed-seat crowd; they scored seats on the main floor.

San Diego boat captain Mark Wilson bought his ticket for $200 on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Web site. A devoted TV fan, Wilson came alone. He watched the show in relative silence, seemingly awed by the whole affair. At one point, he noted of the event: "It's out of my league.

"My family wasn't particularly interested," he said. But no doubt they, and other friends and relatives of the balcony crowd, heard all about it. During the commercial breaks, people inside the auditorium shouted on cell phones and snapped pictures while a video loop of 1970s TV shows ran on large screens. Favorites such as "The Love Boat" and "Sanford and Son" warranted scattered applause.

When they returned to their seats, enthusiasm was the order of the day. Since the show is a made-for-TV event, its executive producer, Gary Smith, had prepped the audience for the cameras before the telecast began. "Applaud with verve," he instructed the crowd of about 6,000, "and laugh even when you think it's not funny."

The high-altitude set was more than happy to oblige.

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