The second string can shine tonight

Sans 'Sopranos,' the Emmy show comes down to this burning question: Will 'Friends' finally win?

Television

September 22, 2002|By Sun Television Critic

As if the fall television season didn't already feel downsized enough, with a crop of new network series making debuts mostly to yawns, now comes the 54th annual Emmy Awards telecast tonight -- minus the most Emmy-worthy series on the tube, HBO's The Sopranos.

Worse, from 9 to 10 tonight, NBC's telecast of the Emmys will be in direct competition with The Sopranos.

Sure, you can tape The Sopranos and watch the Emmy show, but who wants to wait even two hours to see what Tony and the crew are up to, especially after you laid out the extra money for premium cable to get HBO just to watch this marvelous series?

Having the Emmys without The Sopranos involved is like having major league baseball's all-star game without any New York Yankees on the field -- or Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa to boot. The Emmy telecast has traditionally been like a giant pep rally aimed at psyching viewers up for the rollout of the networks' new fall television season. Now you have a pep rally minus the big men and women on campus -- trying to excite us about a game that's already been judged a ho-hum affair.

Of course, it is not the fault of the television industry or the sponsoring body, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, that The Sopranos is not involved in this year's Emmys. Because creator and executive producer David Chase took 16 months instead of the usual year to produce the new Sopranos season that started last week, the series did not have any new episodes airing during the 12-month period that ended Aug. 31. Thus, it was ineligible.

I say bravo for Chase and HBO for caring enough about quality to defy conventional production schedules that are determined more by crank-it-out, corporate demands aimed at keeping the cash from advertisers and subscribers flowing than anything else. If you saw last week's premiere, I think you will agree that, artistically, it was worth the wait.

Conspicuous absence

So, call it the luck of the draw if you want, but a greatly diminished Emmy telecast is still just the kind of luck television and the Emmys didn't need this year -- especially in the wake of one of the greatest Oscar telecasts anyone can remember, with Sidney Poitier receiving the honorary Oscar and Denzel Washington and Halle Berry being the first two African-Americans to win lead actor awards. There were moments last spring when the screen felt like it was going to explode with all the emotion and cultural resonance connected with those awards.

I think I am safe in predicting that tonight's 54th annual Emmy Awards telecast is not going to top last April's Oscars show in that regard, even if Bernie Mac wins as best actor in a sitcom. Worse, the evening has the potential to be one of those parties where the one thing nobody can forget is who's not there. HBO's name is sure to keep getting called, since, even without The Sopranos, it leads all comers with 93 nominations. HBO also has the most-nominated series in Six Feet Under, Alan Ball's darkly comic drama about a family of funeral directors in Los Angeles.

But there are a few categories and nominees that bring some interest and possible emotion to the telecast.

Friends, which begins its final season this week on NBC, has never won as best comedy. Will the industry finally reward this sitcom, which has consistently done the one thing that really matters in Hollywood -- make big money for the network? This is also the first year that cast members are competing in the lead acting categories. Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc are up for best actor in a comedy, while Jennifer Aniston is nominated as best actress. Will the industry snub them?

But let's be honest here: As successful as Friends has been, its imminent departure is not exactly Johnny Carson signing off -- or even Cheers or Seinfeld saying sayonara. I can't imagine anyone spending 10 seconds overwrought with emotion no matter which way the comedy categories go.

(Speaking of Seinfeld, 10 years ago, Jerry Seinfeld was one of the telecast hosts. Tonight, it's Conan O'Brien. Talk about downsizing.)

Ho-hum

There could be some emotion connected with Path to War, an HBO movie that dramatized the ways in which President Lyndon Johnson's advisers helped lead him and the nation into the Vietnam War.

John Frankenheimer, who died July 6, is nominated as best director of a movie or miniseries, and the Emmy would surely tap into affection and admiration for the man and his work.

Surely NBC, the one network that was competitive with HBO in nominations, will be trying to pump some energy and excitement into tonight's competition. The hosting network will have Katie Couric and Matt Lauer of the Today show out on the red carpet interviewing stars from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. as a walk-up to the telecast.

What, they couldn't get Joan and Melissa Rivers? I'm kidding.

Hey Katie, where's Tony? You seen Carmela? What, they're not here? Fuggettabout it.

On television

What: 54th annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Where: WBAL Channel 11

When: Tonight at 8

In brief: Missing 'Sopranos' and lame newcomers cast a long shadow over the telecast.

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