Another upbeat opening number may be just what this somber show needed.

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Maybe too much of a good thing really is too much.

Granted, it was probably naive to hope that Neil Patrick Harris' stint as host of Sunday's CBS Emmy broadcast could top his Emmy-winning turn as Tonys host. But we did expect him to come closer to the mark.

Instead, he was as dull and off-kilter as his oddly downbeat show — a talented man who seemed trapped between his desire not to repeat himself and our desire to be entertained. If you don't want to do an opening musical number because you're afraid it will draw Tonys comparisons, fine, but don't make us miss it by substituting a faux battle among former hosts that only reminded us of how ill-served the broadcast has been over the past few years. And don't drop in a "Number in the Middle of the Show" that felt like a lesser version of those numbers you did on, yes, the Tonys.

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In his great favor, Harris comes across as a professional, likable young performer who takes his hosting job — or jobs — seriously and who respects the event he's there to represent. He didn't tarnish the winners' evening, but he did nothing to burnish it, either.

Of course, it was not entirely his fault that the night was so flat and — outside of a spontaneous standing ovation for an overcome Bob Newhart — emotion-free. And that's despite the risky choice of building the three-hour-plus broadcast around five special memorials to departed stars, setting a glum tone while opening the show up to criticism over the choices.

Many viewers were no doubt wondering why the show carved time out for some while relegating Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman, among others, to the standard group "in memoriam" segment that was once again marred by the audience's inappropriately rising and falling applause. There's nothing more tasteless than using these segments to hold an instant referendum on the popularity of the dead.

Whatever one thought of the individual salutes (and Rob Reiner's for Jean Stapleton and Edie Falco's for James Gandolfini were particularly lovely), even the worst of them at least had a clear purpose. Outside of the rhinestones, if there was an actual connection between Elton John's performance and HBO's Emmy-winning Liberace movie, he's the only one who saw it — and that's one more person than understood the rendition of Yesterday by Carrie Underwood that was meant to link the Beatles to the Kennedy assassination and insulted them both.

Why waste time on Shemar Moore's inane backstage introductions? And just to make matters stranger, there was the choreography category's dance salute to — what, exactly? Bad TV? The whole number was so baffling and terrible, it was as if the producers were begging viewers to tune out.

Which this year, would not have been a bad idea.

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