12/02/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
OSCAR WOULD HAVE BEEN SCANDALIZED: DURING THE Nov. 16 live telecast of the CableACE Awards from L.A.'s Wiltern Theatre, nominee Tracey Ullman sat in a sea of Hervé Leger and Escada-clad colleagues, mending her John Galliano trousers. "The hem came down and I had no choice but to ask for some thread," laughed Ullman, whose HBO series "Tracey Takes On..." won the award for best variety show. Fortunately none of the 1,600 other people on hand seemed to mind. As Caroline in the City's Lea Thompson observed, "Award shows don't get more relaxed than this."
Free of Academy-style pomp, the two-hour program—broadcast on TNT and emceed by Drew Carey, was "quick and painless," in the words of ER's Eriq LaSalle. Afterward, in a billowy tent done up as an art nouveau nightclub, winners including Gary Sinise (who took the honors for best actor in a movie for his turn in HBO's Truman) and nominees like Waiting to Exhale's Lela Rochon (costar of Showtime's Mr. and Mrs. Loving) supped on blini and lobster-filled wontons while surveying the crowd. "I can't believe I got to meet Walter Cronkite and Cicely Tyson in the same evening," bubbled Rochon.
"I wanted to check out what people are wearing," confided Sela Ward (who won the best actress award for Lifetime's Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story). Ward's choice: a chiffon Valentino and upswept do that made her feel "like Audrey Hepburn." Even the hottest newcomers weren't above a little stargazing. "I wanted to go up to Gary Sinise, but I didn't have the nerve," confessed Melissa Joan Hart of ABC's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Added the levelheaded Hart: "This is all very exciting, but I'm trying not to get too caught up in it."
Host Carey, however, seemed to be living for the moment. Still reeling from his encounter with Walter Cronkite ("my pal Wally"), the comedian was celebrating with brand-new friend Tammy Michelle Cobb, who had a bit part in the telecast. "I'm going to get drunk with Tammy," he cracked. "We might even drive to Las Vegas tonight and get married." Clearly, the collegial spirit had caught on.