As I've mentioned previously, the night of the TCA Awards is usually my favorite of every tour. Even when I don't agree with the winners, the choices and the speeches are always interesting, everybody seems to enjoy the absence of cameras, an orchestra to play you off, etc. It's a mostly off-the-record night, so the winners will often stick around to schmooze and tell good stories, or to fraternize with people from other shows, and everyone seems to have a great time. (That, or any actor talented enough to win a TCA Award is good enough to fake it.)

(*) I believe I've shared the story in the past about Vincent Kartheiser from "Mad Men" and Jamie Hector from "The Wire" swapping phone numbers and me having to resist the urge to bust out my Lester Freamon impression.

I posted the list of winners last night, and after the jump, some highlights of the evening...

Surprise!: Dax Shepard was the opening act for the night, and he mentioned that most of the early reviews of "Parenthood," when praising him, always began with phrases like "You won't believe it, but..." Well, at the risk of fulfilling expectations (and I believe I wrote a line or two like that in my early "Parenthood" posts), you might be surprised to hear that Shepard was the best TCA Awards host in several years. He did a spot-on Owen Wilson impression in speculating on a conversation Owen might have had with Luke about the AT&T commercials ("You might want to get on a treadmill before you do the next one...") and was funny and likable throughout. Plus, he brought fiancee Kristen Bell with him, which allowed many critics afterwards to ask the inevitable "Veronica Mars" movie questions. (I didn't ask that, but my guess: it ain't happening.)

The Mayor of Hollywood speaks: It's always a highlight when a Tom Hanks-produced HBO miniseries wins an award, because that means Hanks will come up on stage and display the funny, caustic side that only occasionally appears in his movies anymore. The award for "The Pacific" came not long after the characters of "Yo Gabba Gabba!" appeared on stage while that show's creators accepted the children's award, and after "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy had appeared on stage wearing an undershirt under a blazer, and after Dax himself had appeared on stage in a tomato red suit. So when Hanks came to the podium, his first line was, "This is the last fucking time I'm dressing up for you people!" (The kids from "Modern Family" were seated directly in front of him, by the way. Damon Lindelof also cursed in his speech, then apologized, then said Hanks did it first.) Hanks threw out a few zingers, then shifted into a moving, Hanks-ian speech about how "The Pacific" is also reflective of the experience American soldiers are having right now in Iraq and Afghanistan and the huge emotional adjustments they have to make when they come back to America. Hanks=good public speaker.

That's @damonlindelof, folks: Sheppard wasn't the only participant to reference previous reviews. That's a time-honored TCA Awards tradition. When Betty White won the career achievement award a year ago, she read from some negative reviews of a show she did in the 1950s. When Steve Carell won the comedy individual award one a few years back, he read an extended excerpt from a review so nasty we all assumed he had invented it. (A Google search proved that he hadn't.)

So when Lindelof came on stage to accept the drama series award that "Lost" shared with "Breaking Bad," he first began by saying that the award was sweet, given that not everyone loved the series finale. And as proof, he read a series of vicious tweets that were sent to him after it aired:

"My very first tweet! I started this account just to let you know how disappointed I am in you!"

"Hey, douche! Instead of backpacking in Europe or whatever the fuck you're doing, how about you just give me six years of my life back?"

"Please don't ruin Star Trek by ending it in Klingon purgatory."

And, finally, Lindelof read, "'You're a dirty liar. You never knew, you made it all up, you betrayed us all. You betrayed me and I hope you rot, motherfucker.' And that was from Mr. J.J. Abrams!"

He then switched gears and thanked the critics for believing in the possibilities of the series even as he was doubtful in the early days that the concept could run for several years.

"So I want all of you to know, personally, that I couldn't do it without you. Thanks for being John Locke to my Jack Shephard - even you, Sepinwall, you bastard."

Thanks, boss!: "Modern Family" co-creator Steve Levitan began his speech with a preamble about how he wanted to memorize his speech, but he spent the last week on vacation and forgot his computer, so he was just going to read what he printed out before the trip. And just as we were all ready to dismiss this as lame and random, Levitan began by talking about how grateful he was to be on a network run by Steve McPherson, and that McPherson had assured him that as long as he was running the network, "Modern Family" never had anything to worry about. Well-played, sir.

Levitan also pointed out that it was the 12th birthday for Rico Rodriguez, who plays Manny, and the entire room burst into an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday." After the ceremony, I passed an ebullient Rodriguez, who was telling someone, "I just got a birthday picture with Tom Hanks!"

Through early morning fog I see: Since it was created, the Heritage Award has largely gone to some long-running series that just aired its last season. This year, we had three of those shows on the ballot ("Lost," "24" and "Law & Order"), and I suspect they canceled each other out, giving us a long-overdue chance to honor "M*A*S*H." Larry Gelbart unfortunately died last fall, but other top producers Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe came, as did co-stars Mike Farrell (BJ) and William Christopher (Father Mulcahy).

Reynolds took the stage alone to accept the award, and asked Farrell and Metcalfe to join him. Both declined. Then Reynolds asked Christopher, and the 78-year-old actor positively sprinted and bounced up onto the stage, to the point where a hundred TV critics in the room all used the word "spry" at the same moment. Christopher's display got the others to come on stage, which led to a second standing ovation, and to Farrell once and for all putting to rest any rumors (or "Simpsons" jokes) suggesting he has beef with predecessor Wayne Rogers, who left "M*A*S*H" early, starred in some other failed series, but made a fortune in real estate investments, as he said he was blessed to join the series late "thanks to the unerring business judgment of Wayne Rogers."

Afterwards, most of the crowd stuck around a long time, and the Yo Gabba Gabba characters even came out to mingle with the crowd, in costume.