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HBO leads CableAces with 32 nods

Continuing to dominate the CableAce Awards, HBO racked up 32 prizes from its chart-topping 108 nominations during the 19th annual homage to cable programming excellence on Friday and Saturday nights.

In earning better than a third of the 84 CableAces handed out this year, the Time Warner pay cable giant eclipsed by four its 1996 total of 28 honors and quadrupled the haul of runner-up TNT’s eight wins.

“The Larry Sanders Show” was again the year’s most dominant comedy series in the CableAces, continuing to garner trophies in this competition that elude it in the Primetime Emmys. For the fifth year running, Garry Shandling’s talkshow spoof earned the top comedy honors, also snaring the comedy writing and directing trophies to account for its three nods (out of 15 nominations). It was also the sixth straight year that HBO claimed the best comedy series honor — winning in 1992 with “Dream On.”

But “Sanders” had some HBO company this year in pulling in series accolades. The net’s gritty freshman prison drama “Oz” likewise garnered three CableAces, singled out for best drama series while sweeping the dramatic series actor and actress honors with awards for regulars Eamonn Walker and Rita Moreno.

While the wins for “Larry Sanders” and “Oz” were expected — as were the three triumphs for HBO’s “Bette Midler: Diva Las Vegas,” which had already pulled in a pair of Primetime Emmys — there were nonetheless a few surprises this year.

One was the performance of HBO’s Christopher Reeve-directed dramatic special “In the Gloaming,” which came in as the year’s most-decorated single program. It converted four of its six nominations to wins, cited as top dramatic/theatrical special, for its musical score, for its writing and for Glenn Close’s performance as the mother of a son dying of AIDS (oddly dubbed a “guest actress” role).

But HBO was snubbed in what was easily the biggest CableAce upset of this year (or any other year, for that matter): a top comedy actor win for Kel Mitchell of the Nickelodeon kids series “Kenan & Kel,” grabbing the prize over Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn of “Larry Sanders” and Robert Wuhl of “Arli$$” (which would earn two other CableAces).

Perhaps nearly equally improbable was the win of “Arli$$” co-star Sandra Oh as best actress in a comedy. She upended, among others, Janeane Garofalo of “Sanders” as well as Tracey Ullman, last year’s winner in the category for her “Tracey Takes On…” on HBO.

The major movie/miniseries CableAce honors were far more predictable. TNT’s “George Wallace” emerged as the most-decorated longform project with three CableAces, with the four-hour biopic earning wins in the new outstanding miniseries category as well as for actor Gary Sinise (repeating his CableAce win for last year’s “Truman”) and John Frankenheimer’s direction.

And HBO’s “Miss Evers’ Boys” — the toast of this year’s Primetime Emmys with five statuettes — added a pair of CableAces: for the year’s top movie and for Emmy winner Alfre Woodard as movie/mini actress.

Other HBO shows singled out for CableAces were “The Chris Rock Show” (for entertainment host as well as variety special/series) and George Carlin’s “HBO Comedy Hour” entry titled “40 Years of Comedy” (for top standup special and writing).

HBO aside, the Family Channel made its lone CableAce win a memorable one: a supporting actress in a movie/mini honor for Kimberly Elise in “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” over such formidable competition as Faye Dunaway (for Showtime’s “The Twilight of the Golds”), Cicely Tyson (for Showtime’s “Riot”) and Woodard for USA Network’s “Member of the Wedding.”

However, one grizzled veteran — George C. Scott — was singled out for CableAce recognition, taking a supporting actor in a movie/mini trophy for his work in the William Friedkin-directed remake of “12 Angry Men” on Showtime.

And while it may prove painful to some, we now live in a world in which Comedy Central’s warped adult cartoon series “South Park” is an award winner. It copped the top animated programming CableAce honor over the likes of fellow Comedy Central entrant “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist,” Nickelodeon’s “Kablam!” and Cartoon Network’s “Johnny Bravo.”

Besides HBO’s 32 wins and TNT’s eight, top CableAce winners included Showtime with five; Cinemax, CNN and ESPN with four apiece; Nickelodeon with three; and Bravo, the Discovery Channel, Lifetime and the Travel Channel with two each.

Nickelodeon received the Golden CableAce Award on Saturday for its “The Big Help” televised volunteer campaign, while the Governors Award went to John (Dubby) Wynne, prexy and CEO of Landmark Communications.

The National Academy of Cable Programming handed out CableAce Awards in 84 categories in a three-pronged series of ceremonies: during nontelevised festivities Oct. 22 in Washington, D.C.; at an event Friday night at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre; and then on Saturday during the televised portion hosted by Sela Ward and David Hyde Pierce.

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