NBC comedy sets series milestone
The doctor is in yet again.
“Frasier” marked the end of the first half-century of the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium by rewriting the record book. The show earned an unprecedented fifth consecutive comedy series Emmy (breaking a logjam with five other shows) and took home four statuettes in all, to lead NBC to its annual Emmy comedy cakewalk.
David E. Kelley, who made Emmy history this year by having nominees for both comedy and drama series (“Ally McBeal” and “The Practice,” respectively), batted .500: ABC’s freshman drama “Practice” beat its more experienced competitors in the race for top drama series.
HBO cornered the market on longform awards, winning for miniseries (“From the Earth to the Moon”) and taking home its sixth consecutive win for telefilm (“Don King: Only in America”).
In an only-in-Hollywood situation, the most prizes in Sunday night’s awards show went to another awards show: “The 70th Annual Academy Awards” grabbed five trophies.
“Frasier” helped propel NBC to 18 trophies, with ABC second at 16 and HBO third with 14. CBS was next with eight, followed by Fox with six, TNT with five, PBS at four, the Discovery Channel with three and Showtime, the WB and syndicated programs tied at two each. The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and TBS Superstation nabbed one win apiece.
No program before “Frasier” has ever won five best series Emmys, much less consecutively. It now stands alone in Emmydom, ahead of four-time winners “All in the Family,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and the show that it was spun from: “Cheers.”
The “Frasier” onslaught included repeat wins for stars Kelsey Grammer as lead comedy actor (his third win in eight nominations) and a victory for David Hyde Pierce as comedy series supporting actor (his second after five noms). The show also won for editing. The Emmy timing could not have been better for the show, which replaces “Seinfeld” in the coveted Thursday 9 p.m. timeslot this fall.
The only other comedy series to earn as many as three Emmys this year was “The Simpsons,” which the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences categorizes solely as an animated program.
“Frasier” shared the spotlight with Kelley, though not for the reasons that pre-Emmy conventional wisdom expected. It was assumed that Kelley’s red-hot Fox dramatic comedy “Ally McBeal” would cash in several of its 10 nominations for wins, possibly for top comedy and, at the very least, for star Calista Flockhart in the lead comedy actress race.
Instead, Kelley’s controversial decision to enter “Ally” as a comedy series appears to have backfired as the show came away empty-handed on Sunday and earned just a single Emmy overall (for sound mixing, presented two weeks ago).
Instead of Flockhart, Helen Hunt earned her third consecutive comedy actress win for “Mad About You” and in the process became the first performer to win both an Oscar and an Emmy in the same calendar year.
Not that Kelley was complaining on Sunday, however. He had said repeatedly before the Emmy ceremony that his low-rated ABC drama “The Practice” needed the Emmy recognition worse than did “Ally,” and sure enough “Practice” pulled off perhaps the upset of the night by taking the drama series gold over previous winners “ER,” “NYPD Blue,” “The X-Files” and last year’s champ “Law & Order.”
Kelley had scored a rare four individual noms, coming away with just the single “Practice” Emmy. But actresses from two of his shows took the lead and supporting drama series honors. “Chicago Hope’s” Christine Lahti took her first Emmy in five tries for dramatic lead, while “Practice’s” Camryn Manheim upset the field for the supporting honor.
Manheim’s win was a wildly popular one. Seemingly shocked, she exulted during her acceptance, “I have always felt like such a misfit, and to get this award from my peers is such a huge victory.” After calling “Practice” creator-producer Kelley “my hero,” Manheim dedicated her Emmy to “all the fat girls!” in the audience.
“Frasier’s” performance helped propel NBC to its annual dominance of the major comedy prizes, also including Lisa Kudrow’s upset win for the supporting comedy actress Emmy — her first in three tries — over previous winners Christine Baranski, Kristen Johnston, Jane Leeves and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Louis-Dreyfus would later appear as a presenter and intone, “Hello, I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and I am unemployed.” Indeed, despite what was expected to be strong sentiment for “Seinfeld” in its final year of Emmy eligibility, it was shut out completely Sunday night, leaving it with a grand total of 10 Emmys to show for its 67 noms over the years. Jason Alexander thus completes his “Seinfeld” career Emmyless in eight tries.
And after taking the highest number of Emmys last year with five, NBC’s “3rd Rock From the Sun” came away without a triumph. And despite receiving a drama series high 16 nominations, “ER” took just two technical Emmys and no majors after converting a mere three of 22 nods in 1997.
In his acceptance speech, “Frasier’s” Grammer — who has long battled substance abuse — had his mind on more personal matters, giving thanks to “a special group of people who came to me during a very dark time in my life.”
Pierce seemed slightly stunned to be standing on stage taking his Emmy, aware that the late Phil Hartman had been a heavy sentimental favorite. He began his speech, “I did not expect to be doing this, but apparently I am. First of all, Phil Hartman — you all know how great he is.”
A few of those long-denied Emmy paydirt finally got their statuettes Sunday night. One was Garry Shandling, who snared his first Emmy on his 19th try (for comedy writing on “The Larry Sanders Show,” shared with Peter Tolan).
“Larry Sanders” also took a comedy directing Emmy to give it two in its farewell season — one more than the single trophy it had managed to win in 46 noms prior to this year.
Tolan got off one of the night’s great quips during his acceptance, admitting, “I find it incredible that in 1998 that an award for comedy writing can be won by a gentile, and I thank you.”
Likewise getting the monkey off his back was David Letterman, whose won his first Emmy for his “Late Show” on CBS. In accepting the award for the absent Letterman, the show’s executive producer and lead writer Rob Burnett called Letterman “the kindest man I know.”
And in his third Emmy nomination, “Homicide: Life on the Street’s” Andre Braugher — long a favorite of critics — was an upset winner for lead dramatic actor over, among others, three-time winner Dennis Franz of “NYPD Blue.” In his acceptance, Braugher dedicated the award to “all the people of Baltimore,” where the series is filmed and is set.
HBO continued to hold the made-for-TV category as its own personal domain by winning it for the sixth consecutive year with its biopic “Don King: Only in America.”
But the news wasn’t all good for HBO in longform. For one, while its Apollo space project “From the Earth to the Moon” took top miniseries and a pair of creative arts Emmys, it failed to cash in on any more of its chart-topping 17 nominations.
TNT served notice Sunday night that it’s now playing in the big leagues, pulling down three Emmys for its two-parter “George Wallace”: for performers Gary Sinise (his first) and Mare Winningham and for director John Frankenheimer.
In an oddity, the “70th Annual Academy Awards” telecast earned the most Emmys this year with five, while the NBC/Hallmark mini “Merlin” took four (all in technical categories).
The Emmys moved this year to the Shrine Auditorium near downtown Los Angeles from its previous home at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, prompting Shandling to quip on stage that the switch was made so “X-Files” star David Duchovny “could be closer to his wife.”