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The Golden Globes: The Scene From Inside The Ballroom

The show hit the perfect note for the stars in the room, many of whom were as occupied with scoring photos on the smoking patio as charting the winners.

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LOS ANGELES — The first thing that those Golden Globes guests who did not heed the warning on the invitation that dinner would be served promptly at 4 p.m. Pacific time, and lingered on the carpet until the last minute, arrived in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday to find was that all the plates had been quietly removed from their tables. After all, there cannot be clinking cutlery during a three-hour-long TV broadcast, nor does anyone want to see George Clooney stuffing his face with a cauliflower floret. (Well, maybe a few people want to see that.)

The last minute rush off the red carpet, as it dawned on these stars of TV and film that they might be going hungry for the next few hours, created a slightly dangerous mini-stampede to the seats as an announcer called out to the room, "Three minutes til show time. Everyone please take their seats." A security guard attempted to clear a path for Mel Gibson: "Sorry, I've got to push him through." It was an oddly abashed presence in a room he once ruled.

Despite the fact that the show was about to air, however, this is Hollywood. And so three minutes to go means three minutes to schmooze, which created some fascinatingly odd celebrity pairings around the room. At the Smash table, Debra Messing leapt to her feet to embrace Lucy Liu. Bradley Cooper chatted with Katharine McPhee. Daniel Craig waded past Quentin Tarantino. Sam Waterston and Steve Buscemi talked by their table. "Can we win SAG? Easily?" a concerned-looking producer buttonholed an Oscar pundit.

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Hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey struck exactly the right note for the room: lrreverent and zany, slightly barbed lines (James Cameron/torture), but dialing back Ricky Gervais' nasty edge by a good third. While the crowd inside the Hilton had often been lukewarm for Gervais in previous years, Poehler/Fey were an unqualified hit.

Throughout the night, there was a sense that this is a show that knows itself and is comfortable with itself, much more than Oscar will ever be, with no need to enforce seriousness or good manners. On the floor, by the third segment, semi-bedlam erupted as good portions of the audience repaired to the smoking patio or the bar at the back where a buffet of cheese and fruits was available to those who missed their dinner. And, of course, as the free alcohol.

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On the patio, the most frequent guest was Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin gamely received the regular stream of fans and well-wishers who approached for a photo or a handshake. The irony of the Globes is that although it is the most carefree format of the major shows, it is not exactly an intimate living room. Ticketed though they may be, a good half of the room is occupied by non-celebrity friends of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, many of whom lie in wait to pounce on the stars when they step away from their tables. Walking through the show is only slightly different for them than walking through a crowded airport.

Approached by a young girl and asked which movie he wants to win, Sorkin counseled, "Movies aren't horses. You don't have to like just one." A pair of women approached, consoling him about The Newsroom's defeat for best TV drama. The writer shrugged it off. When he was out of earshot, the women snorted, "Don't pretend it didn't hurt!"

The mood grew more rambunctious as the evening progressed. At each break the crowd pouring in and out of the smoking patio grew thicker — some getting away to make sure they weren't trapped in their seats for a segment; others racing to return. One particularly congested bottleneck forced security to step in and clear a path for Jon Hamm and Jeremy Irons to get back to their seats. Off to one side, Matt LeBlanc was left to fend for himself. Moments later, the congestion continuing, the guards upbraided Keifer Sutherland for lingering in front of the door, blocking the traffic flow.

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Onstage, the show clearly found its groove, with just the right dose of surpriselets in the awards and a consistent flow of funny but not forced humor from the hosts and presenters. Breaks from the boozy bonhomie came with the complete surprise appearance of Bill Clinton, which brought the crowd to their feet, and the big talker moment of the night: Jodie Foster's quasi-coming out speech. The feel-good crowd seemed blown away by the remarks, even as they didn't quite know what to make of it. Stars who were approached for comment uniformly declined to speak on the record, no doubt wanting to seek counsel before they dove in. On the other end of the spectrum, Jennifer Lawrence delivered the one sour note of the night, her joke about beating Meryl Streep received in stony silence as the exact example of where you do not go at the Globes (clearly, many in attendance need to rewatch First Wives Club).

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Setting the tone of the night, however, was the table for HBO's Girls, the show that was nominated and ultimately victorious in the TV Comedy category. At its center, America's most (in)famous mini-auteur Lena Dunham completely shed her ironic posture and seemed both excited and touched to be at the affair, gawking at the stars around her along with everyone else.

The night ended perfectly from a party perspective, with a big surprise as Ben Affleck's Argo stole the best picture trophy from heavy favorite Lincoln. No one was quite sure why Argo had won, but as the guests stumbled in a cheery herd from the room, so different from the stupefied walking dead who emerge from an Oscar show, the upset gave them something to talk about, which is the Globes' entire point.

As I crept from the room, I found myself crushed into a tight air pocket with Mel Gibson. Feeling completely awkward, lacking for words and wanting somehow to keep the good spirits of the night alive, I blurted out, "Good to see you here!" He didn't miss a beat, nodded and said, "Yeah. You too." Everyone was an old friend at the Globes.

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