DeGeneres hosted the post-9/11 awards, which she wrote and rewrote to reflect America's somber mood. Ehrlich produced the 1980 Emmys, when an actors' strike kept away all winners but one (a determined Powers Boothe) and gutted the show of glamour.
Katrina is the challenge for this year's ceremony, which will acknowledge the devastating hurricane while honoring TV's best and trying to keep viewers and the Shrine Auditorium audience entertained.
The leading nominees for the 57th annual prime-time Emmys include two hot series that could help juice the ceremony's sagging ratings: "Desperate Housewives," with three of its stars competing for a best-actress trophy, and "Lost."
"'We need to make people laugh,'" Ehrlich said DeGeneres told him about 10 days after the disaster. "'Without forgetting, we need to make people laugh.'"
He's become increasingly convinced that DeGeneres, who grew up in New Orleans and who has relatives who lost their Gulf Coast homes, is right.
"I think there's an opportunity for this show to definitely be respectful and responsive, but I think there's an opportunity and maybe a responsibility to play some part in healing," Ehrlich said in the week leading up to the show.
The entertainment industry has been prominent in hurricane and flood relief, with actors and musicians taking part in a number of telethons and contributing money as well as onsite help.
There's also been controversy: A live NBC fundraiser included an unscripted speech by rapper Kanye West with a jab at President George W. Bush (edited for the taped West Coast airing). CBS could face a similar situation with the Emmys, also live.
"We don't encourage it and the artists, in fact, have very little time at the podium to begin with for their acceptance speeches," said CBS spokesman Chris Ender. "But we don't edit for commentary, only for matters of indecency."