Fun in the sun

Monte Carlo fest lets TV stars shine

Flash- bulbs popped and star-gawking fans screamed as high-profile U.S. TV stars filed up the red carpet to the closing ceremony of this year's 47th annual Monte Carlo TV Festival, held at the ultra-modern seaside Grimaldi Forum. Twenty Golden Nymphs and six special prizes covering a range of categories in telefilms, comedy and news, as well as three International TV Audience Awards, were given out to TV's standouts worldwide.

Reminiscent of last year's victors, the best TV comedy series prize went to "Desperate Housewives," and "The Bold and the Beautiful" was voted best soap. "CSI" (Les Experts) won as best TV drama series; and best international producer was attributed to Jack Bender and his team for "Lost."

But it was the U.K. that generated the "wow" factor, scooping up a dozen prizes, including two best actor awards (Andrew Lincoln, "Afterlife"; Peter Davison, "Fear, Stress and Anger"), two best European producer awards ("Peep Show," "Life on Mars"), two best news coverage honors (Five News, BBC News 24) and three miniseries trophies.

"It's obvious that the U.K. productions are doing extremely well," festival director David Tomatis said. "If ever there was a gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world, the U.K. has definitely filled it."

Those lending star power to the festivities included Dennis Haysbert ("The Unit"), and Robert Duvall and Walter Hill, who were there to promote their western "Broken Trail," which screened in competition. Also basking in the limelight was "Lost's" Terry O'Quinn, "CSI's" Gary Dourdan, Kristanna Loken ("Painkiller Jane"), Lauren Holly ("NCIS"), Eric Dane ("Grey's Anatomy"), Robert Knepper ("Prison Break"), Mary Rajskub ("24"), Jenni Baird ("4400") and castmembers from such U.S. series as "Brothers and Sisters," "Heroes," "Ugly Betty" and "The Bold and the Beautiful."

"Moving the festival from February to the summer has been crucial because more actors are available at this time of year," creator-executive producer Dick Wolf said. "Plus, it gives producers an extra little marketing push to show their stars smiling and happy, with the Mediterranean in the background."

Still, it's not all fun and games. "It's been a real eye opener discovering the world's best contemporary TV shows," ABC executive Morgan Wandell said. "As a jury member, I spent four days below sea level in a dark room screening 14 films. I think I've seen World War II from about every possible angle."

The fest's closing ceremony was followed by a glitzy black-tie gala dinner at the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club's Salle des Etoiles, where Mandy Patinkin ("Criminal Minds") improvised a few songs before a Motown band featuring two former Supremes took the stage. The biggest question on everyone's lips, quipped "Lost's" O'Quinn, was: "When do we get to come back?"