Mobs, dolls and dads

'Sopranos,' 'Raymond' break through; voters sold on 'Sex' appeal

“Sex” got a noted TV critic riled up, there was predictable grousing from snubbed TV execs and a feisty John Leguizamo started taking playful early aim at rival Chris Rock, but otherwise reaction was harmonious to the primetime Emmy nominations.

A chorus critic approval greeted HBO’s 16 bids for “The Sopranos,” including its breakthrough as the first cable skein to compete for best drama. Meryl Marshall, chair of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, sung the pay web’s praises for “demonstrating that it can succeed in dramas as well” as it has in longforms in the past.

But one discordant note was sounded over one of HBO’s two bids for “Sex and the City.”

After the announcement that “Sex” was nominated for best comedy, TV Guide critic Matt Roush declared that it doesn’t deserve the honor.

Rallying to the show’s defense, HBO programming prexy Chris Albrecht tells Daily Variety, “It’s got fantastic performances and it’s extremely well-written.”

But best comedy actress nominee Sarah Jessica Parker acknowledges that her show pulled off a coup, saying, “I was surprised, yes. I hear that ‘Sopranos’ was pretty much a shoo-in, but we were the long shot. Knowing that, it’s more of a miracle. It’s amazing.”

Gushing with excitement, she adds, “I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow morning and discover that all of this has been a fantastic dream-slash-nightmare.”

Just like last year, HBO nabbed the second-most noms, 74, after NBC’s 82. The other major webs returned in the same rank as 1998, too, and reaped similar tallies: ABC has 58, CBS, 46, and Fox, 33.

HBO topper Jeff Bewkes says, “What excites us the most is the range of nominations we received: movies, series, documentaries, variety shows. It’s not about how many nominations you get. It’s about, ‘Did the things you do in all these categories get recognized?’ They did and, actually, to a greater extent than ever before, so we’re very happy.”

“The Sopranos” juggernaut bumped “The X-Files” and star David Duchovny out of the races for best drama and lead actor, but Fox prez Doug Herzog responds sympathetically.

“Look, with ‘The Sopranos’ you had something new coming in that had quite a bit of momentum,” he says. “I’m not surprised. But we certainly feel bad that the Academy failed to recognize ‘The X-Files’ in certain ways. The show’s better than ever.”

Herzog was pleased, however, with “Ally McBeal’s” strong showing and with Fox nabbing four out of the five slots for best animated program: “Futurama,” “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “The PJs”. (“The Powerpuff Girls” on Cartoon Network received the fifth nom.)

Fox and the three broadcast webs were shut out of the competish for best TV film, which includes HBO, Showtime, TNT and A&E. Particularly miffed by the snub was CBS, which presented some of the most critically praised telefilms this year.

“It’s a shame,” said senior VP Sunta Izzicupo. “We had great Hallmark Hall of Fame movies like ‘Saint Maybe’ and ‘Durango,’ plus excellent films like ‘Behind the Mask.’ But we’re fighting the preconceived notion that the cable movie must be better than a network movie. In fact, several of the films that got Emmy nominations were not, how shall I put this diplomatically, reviewed respectfully.”

Izzicupo was nonetheless “thrilled” over the 13 bids for “Joan of Arc.”

“We have a tradition here of great minis like ‘Lonesome Dove.’ It’s nice to come back with a big, quality costume drama that also had a heart, a brain and had critics and viewers liking it.”

“Really thrilled” was Eye web star Ray Romano’s reaction, whose “Everybody Loves Raymond” finally earned Emmy attention at the end of its third season.

“You know, everybody in the cast got nominated but Brad Garrett,” he observes, “but it’s perfect for his character. After the announcements, he called me up and I said, ‘How’d you get my number, loser?’ You know, we tease him about it. He deserves it as much as anybody, but he’ll get more mileage out of this than if he was nominated, the bastard. He’ll get a spinoff series before I know it.”

How badly does Romano want to win? “Here’s the way I look at it,” he says. “If I come up with a good acceptance speech, I’ll be pissed off if I lose, because I’m gonna be writing comedy and you know how hard it is to write comedy. If I don’t have anything, it’ll be a no-lose situation.

“If we win, I can see the headline already: ‘Emmy-body Loves Raymond.’ We’ll go to the party and my parents will probably be here from New York. They’ll embarrass me. My father will spill something on his rented tux.”

“Raymond” will compete against “Ally McBeal,” which nabbed 13 noms, three more than its 1998 tally, including new bids for supporting stars Peter MacNichol and Lucy Liu.

“I’m thrilled that our other actors are finally recognized,” exec producer Jeffrey Kramer says.

Kramer also oversees “The Practice,” which claimed 13 noms (up from four). “I was disappointed that David E. Kelley wasn’t nominated for writing in the drama category,” he says of his producing partner and the show’s creator. “Some of his writing this past season on ‘The Practice’ was the finest of his career.”

Emmy veterans Tracey Ullman, Dennis Miller and Chris Rock were joined in the variety show competish by newcomer John Leguizamo, whose Spike Lee-helmed version of his Broadway show “Freak” earned him a nod.

“Those Emmy voters are so freakin’ smart,” he punned after hearing of his double noms. “It’s pretty amazing. These are the Oscars of TV!”

Leguizamo now looks forward to winning, he says, so “I can call Chris Rock all the time and say, ‘Hey, Chris, now I beat your ass. Latin man on top. You like that, eh?’ And if he beats me, he’ll be calling me, saying, ‘Hey, what’s it like being on the bottom again?’

“Yeah, this could be fun … if I win.”

Thomas O’Neil is the author of “Variety’s the Emmys and the Grammys” (Perigee Books).

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