Maybe it was the promise of seeing those "Desperate Housewives (search)" tussle over the best-acting trophy or watching "Lost (search)" find Emmy (search) gold — the awards ceremony drew its biggest audience in three years.
More than 18.5 million viewers tuned in to Sunday's show, a 35 percent increase over last year, according to preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research. Final figures were expected Tuesday.
The CBS broadcast reversed a ratings slide that in 2004 saw the ceremony drop to its second-smallest audience ever, 13.8 million, on ABC. The event rotates among the four major networks.
Conventional wisdom has it that popular movies draw big audiences to the Academy Awards; the ABC freshman sensations "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" may have done the same for the Emmys.
"Lost," about plane crash survivors on a mysterious and dangerous island, received the best drama series award and won a directing trophy.
"To get this award right now right before our second season kicks off is incredibly exciting and puts us in a really good spot," series star Matthew Fox said backstage Sunday. The show returns for its second season Wednesday.
Suburban satire "Desperate Housewives" failed to grab the best-comedy award but Felicity Huffman was named best comedy actress, prevailing over co-stars Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross. The series also received a directing award.
Ellen DeGeneres, who hosted 2001's challenging post-9/11 Emmys, again proved herself smooth and unflappable, juggling a show stuffed with musical numbers and awards as well as recognition of Hurricane Katrina victims.
HBO again topped the networks in total Emmys, receiving 27 awards including seven honors Sunday and 20 trophies given at last week's Creative Arts Emmys recognizing technical and other achievements. ABC got a total of 16 awards, followed by CBS with 11, NBC and PBS with 10 each and Fox with six.