HBO up for most Emmys again

Missing `Sopranos' didn't hurt channel's nomination numbers

July 19, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Nominations for the 54th annual Emmy Awards were announced yesterday in Los Angeles, and no message came through louder or more clearly than how much better HBO is than anything else on television.

Even without The Sopranos, which did not air any new episodes during the 12-month period that ended May 31 and so did not qualify, HBO collected the most nominations overall with 93. It also produced the most-nominated series, Six Feet Under, Alan Ball's darkly comic drama about a family of funeral directors, which received 23 nominations, including one for best drama and two each for best lead actor and lead actress in a drama.

NBC finished second overall with 89 nominations, thanks largely to The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin's backstage look at the White House of President Josiah Bartlet, which received 21. NBC was followed by CBS with 50 nominations and ABC with 35. Fox had 33 nominations, and PBS 11. This is not a very good showing by public television, which asks to be judged by the quality of its programs, not the size of its audiences.

The Sopranos was last year's most-nominated program, and some want to credit its absence for opening the door to a wider array of nominees. But a number of the most surprising nominees yesterday were in categories like comedy where The Sopranos has no impact. The larger story is that even with the loss of the most-nominated show on television, HBO still led the field.

The premium cable channel dominated in most areas. HBO's Band of Brothers led all non-series programs with 19 nominations overall. The miniseries about a legendary World War II unit was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

In the made-for-television movie category, HBO had four of five nominees, with Path to War, Dinner With Friends, The Gathering Storm and The Laramie Project. The fifth nominee also went to a cable channel, TNT for James Dean. And the broadcast networks wonder why no one is watching their movies-of-the-week anymore.

Indicative of the way in which cable quality was regularly rewarded in yesterday's nominations, John Frankenheimer, who died July 6, was nominated for his sensitive direction of Path to War. The film told the behind-the-scenes story of how Lyndon Johnson's advisers helped lead him and the country deeper and deeper into Vietnam. Michael Gambon also picked up a nomination for outstanding lead acting performance in a miniseries, movie or dramatic special for his performance as LBJ.

Clark Johnson, who was in the Homicide: Life on the Street cast, was also recognized yesterday for his work as a director. Johnson was nominated for outstanding direction in a drama series for the pilot of The Shield, the acclaimed cop series on FX. Michael Chiklis picked up a nomination for best lead actor in a dramatic series for his performance as Detective Vic Mackey in the series.

Virtually every major category featured at least one HBO performer. In addition to Chiklis, the best actor in a drama series category included Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under, along with Martin Sheen of NBC's The West Wing and Kiefer Sutherland of 24, one of the only shining moments this season on Fox.

Best actress in a drama series featured Rachel Griffiths and Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under, along with Jennifer Garner of ABC's Alias, Amy Brenneman of ABC's Judging Amy and Allison Janney of NBC's The West Wing.

In best comedy series category, HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City will compete with CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond and NBC's Will & Grace and Friends.

NBC was the only broadcast network to hold its own with HBO and the world of cable television yesterday, thanks in large part to Will & Grace and Friends. The former was the most nominated comedy with 13, while Friends tied Everybody Loves Raymond in the runner-up spot with 11.

This was the first year that cast members of Friends - the highest-rated sitcom on television last season - placed themselves in contention in the lead acting categories. Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry were nominated as best comedy actors, along with Jennifer Aniston for best actress.

Aniston will compete with Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), Deborah Messing (Will & Grace) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle).

In addition to The West Wing, NBC can also take pride in Law & Order, which received its 11th straight nomination as best drama series. That ties it with Cheers and M*A*S*H for most consecutive best series nominations by a drama or comedy.

One of the reasons for a wider array of nominees is the creation of categories to honor new and popular forms of programming. The nominees in the category of outstanding nonfiction program (reality) include MTV's The Osbournes, TLC's Trauma in the ER, PBS' Frontier House and American High, along with Taxicab Confessions and Project Greenlight, both from HBO.

But then there is also a category called outstanding special class that includes CBS' Survivor and TLC's Trading Spaces.

Members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made an effort to cast their nets wide. They recognized most of the post-Sept. 11 specials - ranging from the multi-network America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon to CBS' 9/11 and HBO's In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01 - in various categories.

Alongside these nominations came one for Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, recently canceled by ABC. Maher believes his show was canceled in part because of remarks he made in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The telecast is scheduled to air Sept. 22 on NBC live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Last year's show was postponed twice after the attacks.

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