Top Emmys go to canceled or revamped shows


August 26, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Perennial winners "Cheers" and "L.A. Law" got the top awards in last night's "43rd Annual Emmy Awards Show." And black stars and cable TV moved near the forefront of the network-dominated Emmys for the first time with awards to Lynn Whitfield for HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story," two for James Earl Jones in TNT's "Heatwave" and ABC's "Gabriel's Fire," and another to Madge Sinclair, also for "Gabriel's Fire."

But the hottest news was the number of canceled shows that were honored.

Six major awards went to shows that were either pulled completely, 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. Concern over the cancellations was sounded repeatedly throughout the Emmy telecast.

Patricia Wettig and Timothy Busfield of the canceled series "thirtysomething" won for best actress and best supporting actor, respectively.

"It's a little sad," a tearful Wettig said in accepting her award. "This is my last time to say goodbye to this character Nancy Weston." Wettig thanked viewers for their support; she did not thank ABC.

Thomas Carter -- who won for best drama direction with his work on another canceled series, "Equal Justice" -- sounded the theme best when he accepted his award by telling network executives: "Do not slink into the mundane. . . . Please embrace innovation. It is our only salvation." His words received one of the most enthusiastic responses from the audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Even "L.A. Law" producer David Kelly commented on the demise of runners-up "China Beach" and "thirtysomething" in accepting the best drama award. "You made us proud to be in television," he told producers of those shows. "We will miss you."

Two Emmys went to semi- canceled actors. Jonathan Winters won for best supporting actor in a comedy series, "Davis Rules," which got the hook in May. ABC has since put it in production as a backup series but it is not on the fall schedule.

Ms. Sinclair won her Emmy last night as best supporting actress in a drama series for her work in "Gabriel's Fire." ABC didn't cancel that show, but has changed it drastically, greatly cutting back on Sinclair's screentime. Neither Sinclair nor Davis was on hand to receive their awards.

The biggest winner of the night in comedy was "Cheers." Besides winning as best comedy, Kirstie Alley won as best actress, Bebe Neuwirth won as best supporting actress and James Burrows won for best direction.

"Evening Shade" had a moment in the spotlight with Burt Reynolds winning as best actor in a comedy.

"Cheers," "L.A. Law" and "Murphy Brown" had the most nominations, 13 each, going in. "The Josephine Baker Story" -- which saw Whitfield's husband, Brian Gibson also winning an Emmy for direction -- was the second most nominated show with 12.

Besides the many black stars honored last night, "Separate But Equal" -- the story of Thurgood Marshall and the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case -- won as best drama or comedy special or mini-series. The references to cancellations and Carter's plea for quality television were the only moments approaching real emotion in an otherwise lackluster show.

The show was mainly just dull, dull, dull with hosts Dennis Miller, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jerry Seinfeld being not very funny.

Producer Steve Sohmer did try for emotion with a tribute to Michael Landon, and he had Marlo Thomas talking about her father, Danny Thomas. But neither seemed to connect with the reservoir of affection America holds for the two late stars.

The show's low comedic point was Gilbert Gottfried's reference to Pee-wee Herman's recent arrest on indecent exposure charges and a tedious elaboration on the subject of masturbation.

Winners in major Emmy categories

Drama series: "L.A. Law," NBC

Comedy series: "Cheers," NBC

Drama-comedy special and miniseries: "Separate But Equal," ABC

Variety, music or comedy series: "The 63rd Annual Academy Awards," ABC

Lead actor, drama series: James Earl Jones, "Gabriel's Fire," ABC

Lead actress, drama series: Patricia Wettig, "thirtysomething," ABC

Lead actor, comedy series: Burt Reynolds, "Evening Shade," CBS

Lead actress, comedy series: Kirstie Alley, "Cheers," NBC

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.

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.

Informational series: "The Civil War," PBS.

Animated program (one hour or less): "The Simpsons," Fox.

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