NBC'S Big Night Emmys: Wins for comedy stars and its series give the peacock network something to strut about.

September 09, 1996|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

NBC, the No. 1 network in ratings, dominated the competition last night at the 48th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

It was a clean sweep in comedy for the Peacock Network, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning the first major honor as best supporting actress for "Seinfeld" and setting a pattern that held straight through for Helen Hunt as best actress in "Mad About You," John Lithgow as best actor in "Third Rock from the Sun" and "Frasier" as best comedy series.

NBC also won the top honor in drama with its hit medical show, "ER," named best drama series.

ABC managed to take home one of the top Emmys with Dennis Franz's victory as outstanding actor in a drama series for "NYPD Blue." CBS highest honor went to Kathy Baker as best actress in a drama series for "Picket Fences," a series that the network has canceled.

The acceptance speeches from NBC generally sounded the sophisticated tone of the network's hit comedies, as when "Frasier" producer Peter Casey accepted the award by saying, "Our show sends a message to the pompous, long-winded and incessantly fussy of America: There is a place for you."

Lithgow, holding his Emmy upside down, quoted his character, saying, "God bless television."

Louis-Dreyfus accepted by saying, "A lot of people say that our show is about nothing, but of course it's been about plenty of something for me." It was her first Emmy after failing with four previous nominations for her work on "Seinfeld." She was wearing a mint dress far more conservative than the wide-open number she donned at last year's Emmy telecast.

ABC and NBC led going into Sunday's program, with each having won 11 statuettes in creative art categories awarded in a non-televised prelude Saturday. HBO was next with eight trophies, followed by CBS with five. Fox Broadcasting's "The X-Files" was the leading show, with four Emmys in the non-televised creative arts awards Saturday night.

NBC's "Homicide," which managed only three nominations overall, lost in two of the categories Saturday. Lily Tomlin, who appeared in a "Homicide" episode titled "The Hat," lost to Amanda Plummer for her appearance on "The Outer Limits," while Pat Moran and Lou DiGiaimo lost to Debi Manwiller in the category of outstanding individual achievement in casting for a series.

Besides Plummer, guest actor awards on Saturday went to Peter Boyle, Tim Conway and Betty White for guest appearances on "The X-Files," "Coach" and "the John Larroquette Show," respectively.

The third "Homicide" nominee -- star Andre Braugher -- went into last night's competition with two nominations, one as best actor in a drama series for "Homicide" and the other as best supporting actor in a miniseries for his performance in HBO's "Tuskegee Airmen." The Emmy as best supporting actor in a minseries went to Tom Hulce for his performance in TNT's "The Heidi Chronicles," while Franz topped Braugher as best actor.

The closest competition for NBC came from HBO and CBS. HBO was led by two awards each for "Dennis Miller Live" and "Rasputin." Alan Rickman and Greta Scacchi won as best actor and best actress in "Rasputin," a made-for-TV movie.

CBS won two awards for "The Kennedy Center Honors" -- one for best variety, music or comedy special, the other for directing. Tyne Daly of "Christy" and Ray Walston of "Picket Fences" also won as best suuporting actress and actor in a drama series. Like "Picket Fences," "Christy" has also been canceled.

Amid growing concern about sex and violence on TV, a new President's Award was given for programs with a social conscience. It went to "Blacklist: Hollywood On Trial" from cable channel AMC.

There was more honor for NBC in the telecast itself, with Paul Reiser, star of NBC's "Mad About You," as host.

In an interview before the telecast, Reiser said his main goal was to keep the show moving at a brisk pace. "You know what this show is really all about? You got a room full of antsy people going, 'Just keep it moving and get to my category, please.' " But Reiser also acknowledged the audience beyond the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in front of their television sets, saying, "In that regard, it can be a thankless job, because everybody's got an opinion the next morning about how you did."

Reiser did all right. He kept his opening monologue short, but warmed the house with crisp and timely jokes.

"There's a lot of talk about politics this year with the family hour and such. I don't know about politics -- I'm just an actor," he said. "I mean, I don't know if it takes a village to raise a child, but I know it takes a village to get cable."

The theme of the telecast was TV honoring its past as the academy celebrated its 50th anniversary. None of the montages of old clips were knockout, but they were brief and tightly edited enough that it didn't matter.

Reiser received comedy help from a variety of places ranging from Milton Berle's schtick to Garry Shandling's topical humor.

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