Perennial winners "Cheers," "Murphy Brown" and "L.A. Law" got their share of awards in the early going of last night's "43rd Annual Emmy Awards Show." And cable moved near the forefront of the network-dominated Emmys for the first time with two major awards for "The Josephine Baker Story" -- Brian Gibson for direction and his wife Lynn Whitfield for best actress.
But the hottest news was the number of canceled shows that were honored.
Four of the first eight major awards went to shows that were canceled, demoted to midseason replacement status or drastically revamped. All were shows from ABC -- the network that said it could no longer afford to support innovation and quality hourlong dramas.
Timothy Busfield, of the canceled ABC series "thirtysomething," won for best supporting actor. Thomas Carter won for best drama direction with his work on "Equal Justice," which was also canceled by ABC.
Jonathan Winters won for best supporting actor in a comedy series. The show, "Davis Rules," was canceled in May. ABC has since put it in production as a backup series, but it is not on the fall schedule.
Madge Sinclair was honored as best supporting actress in a drama series for her work in ABC's "Gabriel's Fire." The network didn't cancel that show, but has changed it drastically, greatly cutting back on Sinclair's screentime. Neither Sinclair nor Winters was on hand to receive their awards.
Early winners for "Cheers" were Bebe Neuwirth as best supporting actress in comedy and James Burrows for best direction.
"Murphy Brown" picked up an early Emmy for best comedy writing. "L.A. Law" won for best dramatic writing.
"Cheers," "L.A. Law" and "Murphy Brown" had the most nominations, 13, going in. "The Josephine Baker Story" was the second most nominated show with 12.
"Equal Justice's" Carter sounded the theme of the early awards when he accepted his Emmy by telling network executives: "Do not slink into the mundane. . . . Please embrace innovation. It is our only salvation."
It was the only emotion in what started out as a thoroughly lackluster show.
Producer Steve Sohmer promised to put dazzle and glamour into the telecast with a show celebrating "four decades of comedy."
But he must have a very strange notion of dazzle and glamour -- or comedy for that matter. The show's first clip of a past TV comedian featured Groucho Marx making fun of a Hispanic contestant on "You Bet Your Life." Ethnic mockery shouldn't have been funny in the 1950s. And if it was, it certainly isn't something we want to celebrate in a hopefully more enlightened 1991.
Sohmer's only innovation was a bizarre overhead shot of Jane Seymour and John Goodman walking on as presenters. It was the kind of shot sportcasters use from the Goodyear blimp to show how a football play unfolded. What it was doing in this show is anybody's guess.
Otherwise, the show was mainly just dull, dull, dull with hosts Dennis Miller, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jerry Seinfeld not being very funny and some of the biggest star recipients -- Billy Crystal, who won for his performance as host of the Academy Awards show and John Gielgud for lead actor in "Masterpiece Theatre's" "Summer's Lease" -- not bothering to show.
During Saturday night's technical awards, ABC grabbed 15 trophies during the non-televised prelude to Sunday's nationally broadcast ceremonies. CBS garnered 12 Emmys, and PBS -- aided by "The Civil War," its much-lauded series, -- got 10 awards. NBC followed with five.
Multiple winners from Saturday's event included the ABC miniseries about Lt. Col. George Custer, "Son of the Morning Star," which captured four trophies. Home Box Office's multimillion-dollar production of "The Josephine Baker Story" earned three Emmys.
The Academy's prestigious Governor's Award was given to "Masterpiece Theatre" which marks its 20th year on PBS and is the public channel's longest-running continuing drama series.
Colleen Dewhurst, who died last week of cancer, was named outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. The animated "Simpsons" clan won the Fox network its only technical trophy.
Alixe Gordin received an Emmy for outstanding achievement in casting for a miniseries or special for ABC's "Separate But Equal."
Partial list of Emmy winners
Lead actor, miniseries or special: John Gielgud, "Summer's Lease -- Masterpiece Theatre," PBS.
Lead actress, miniseries or special: Lynn Whitfield, "The Josephine Baker Story," HBO
Supporting actor, drama series: Timothy Busfield, "thirtysomething," ABC.
Supporting actress, drama series: Madge Sinclair, "Gabriel's Fire," ABC.
Supporting actor, comedy series: Jonathan Winters, "Davis Rules," ABC.
Supporting actress, comedy series: Bebe Neuwirth, "Cheers," NBC.
Supporting actor, miniseries or special: James Earl Jones, "Heat-wave," TNT.
Supporting actress, miniseries or special: Ruby Dee, "Decoration Day -- Hallmark Hall of Fame," NBC.
Performance for variety series or musical program: Billy Crystal, "The 63rd Annual Academy Awards," ABC.
Directing, comedy series: "Cheers: Woody Interruptus," NBC.
Writing, comedy series: "Murphy Brown: Jingle Hell, Jingle Hell, Hingle All the Way," CBS.
Writing, drama series: "L.A. Law: On the Toad Again," NBC.
Directing, drama series: "Equal Justice: In Confidence," ABC.
Directing, miniseries or special: "The Josephine Baker Story," HBO.
Animated program (one hour or less): "The Simpsons," Fox.
Music and lyrics: "Cop Rock," ABC.