David Kelley's double win

Emmys: With his `The Practice' being named Outstanding Drama Series and `Ally McBeal' taking Outstanding Comedy, the producer has a very good night at the awards show.

September 13, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

David E. Kelley came into last night's 51st annual Emmy Awards with a record number of nominations for his shows and went home with the awards for the best drama and comedy on television.

The producer's courtroom drama "The Practice" won as Outstanding Drama Series, while his offbeat legal series, "Ally McBeal," won as Outstanding Comedy.

"I think you can see from the look on our faces we're a little surprised, but we'll take it," Kelley said in receiving the awards, which came one after another at the very end of the telecast.

Singling out "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart, Kelley said, "Her gifts are why we are all up here."

Beyond Kelley's triumph, NBC dominated the comedy competition on the Fox telecast, taking the top awards for comedy actor and actress, as well as supporting actor and actress.

John Lithgow and Kristen Johnson, of "3rd Rock From The Sun," took home Emmys as Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Helen Hunt, of "Mad About You," won as Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, while David Hyde-Pierce, of "Frasier," won as Outstanding Supporting Actor.

NBC's "Frasier" also took top honors for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, with Jay Kogen getting the Emmy. "Frasier" had won as best comedy the last five years until being beaten by "Ally McBeal" last night.

HBO also had a good night, with its acclaimed "Sopranos" winning two top Emmys. Edie Falco was the surprise winner for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, while series creator David Chase shared the top writing award for drama with staff writer James Manos.

Dennis Franz, of ABC's "NYPD Blue," won as Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series.

One of the more important story lines of the night: At a time when network television is under heavy fire for its lack of diversity, minority artists made a very strong showing.

Paris Barclay, of "NYPD Blue," one of the few African-American directors in Hollywood, won for Outstanding Direction in a Drama Series. John Leguizamo, one of the only Hispanic performers in television, won the Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Music Program for "John Leguizamo's Freak," beating out Dennis Miller, George Carlin, Tracey Ullman and Chris Rock.

Rock's "The Chris Rock Show," on HBO, won for Outstanding Writing for a Music or Variety Program. Rock and Leguizamo's shows appeared on HBO, as did the film version of Ernest J. Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying," a moving drama about a black man sentenced to die, which won as Outstanding Made-For-Television Movie, a major award.

The Fox telecast, which ended a few minutes early, was one of the most pleasantly straightforward in years, with none of the ridiculous, overproduced dance and musical tributes viewers usually have to sit through before getting to the awards.

In fact, such production numbers were cleverly satirized in a tone-setting opening sequence featuring hosts David Hyde-Pierce and Jenna Elfman in leotards. The two offered mock dance interpretations of such shows as HBO's "The Sopranos" and ABC's "Spin City."

The telecast also featured several nicely crafted pre-taped segments, such as one with Keri Russell playing her pensive, self-absorbed "Felicity" character in make-believe scenes from the much harder-edged "NYPD Blue" and "ER."

Its most dignified moment came with the arrival of Robert Guillaume, of "Sports Night," who is recovering from a stroke. Guillaume presented the award for best actor in a drama series.

On the debit side, Fox did use the telecast to promote its own shows -- coming up with a questionable tribute to prime-time animation so that it could plug its many animated series, such as "King of the Hill" and "The Simpsons." And, within the first hour, it managed twice to show the clip from "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" in which Buffy and Angel have very rough sex. All we got in the clips were the face slaps and bloody love bite, but it was more than enough.

Pacing was a problem at times, too. The producers let Jay Kogen, of "Frasier" go on forever even after they appeared to cut his audio. But they rushed Holland Taylor, of "The Practice," off as she was delivering one of the more graceful and brighter acceptance speeches of the evening.

Before being rushed off, Taylor did get to say: "I'm so glad I wrote something. I'm so sad I can't read it." The veteran actress, who won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series -- her first Emmy -- had just received a big hand for opening her speech with the one-word greeting, "Overnight."

A couple of self-congratulatory speeches and clip packages were a little hard to swallow. A package that David Hyde-Pierce identified as "highlights" seemed especially hypocritical in the number of minority images it featured at a time when the networks are under fire for their lack of diversity.

As for little clunkers, how about Halle Berry announcing "Horatio Hornblower," the winner as Outstanding Movie or Miniseries, as "Horatio the Hornblower"?

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