All hail to television’s new chief: Emmy voters elected “The West Wing” in a landslide Sunday night, giving it a record total of nine electoral wins.
That makes the Aaron Sorkin-created NBC/Warner Bros. TV drama the leader of the Emmy world for most awards won by a series in its first season and most won by any series in a single season. The inaugural seasons of “ER” (1994-95) and “Hill Street Blues” (1980-81) previously held both titles at eight a piece.
“The West Wing’s” tally included Emmys for drama series, writing, directing and the two supporting drama categories.
“I’m the happiest guy in the world,” said Sorkin as he collected the top drama prize.
NBC execs must have been proud as a peacock at the Shrine Auditorium, where Emmy also crowned a new king of comedy: “Will & Grace,” the sophomore sensation from the web and NBC Studios, took home three awards, including comedy series.
“Will & Grace” executive producer Max Mutchnick and fellow exec producer David Kohan marveled that a series with gay themes could win such a major award.
“This award really indicates a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘acceptance speech,’ ” Mutchnick said.
In the end, the ballyhooed face-off between the White House and the Mafia was a washout. “The Sopranos,” which tied “The West Wing” at 18 nominations, came up nearly empty. As a matter of fact, the HBO longform “The Corner” took more trophies for the pay cabler (with three awards, including best miniseries) than “The Sopranos,” which only took one-for lead actor James Gandolfini.
Among webs, NBC took the most Emmy awards overall with 23 — beating HBO, which last year became the first cabler to beat its broadcast brethren in the final Emmy tally. This year, HBO settled for 20 trophies, followed by ABC (15), Fox (11) and CBS (7).
The dominance of “West Wing” and “Will & Grace” could be likened to a shot heard ’round the Emmy world: This wasn’t your father’s Emmy show Sunday night … hell, it wasn’t even last year’s Emmy show.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ controversial decision to change Emmy regulations in order to widen its voting pool had an even more profound effect on this year’s tally than just about anyone had predicted.
An infusion of fresh faces dominated the kudocast, where first-time nominees seemed to have a leg up over their fellow, more established brethren.
Unlike recent years, when familiar names like Helen Hunt and John Lithgow made trips almost annually to the podium, it was the newcomers who ruled the stage.
The proof that this year’s Emmycast would be different came early, when “Will & Grace’s” Megan Mullally took the night’s first award, for supporting actress in a comedy.
“This is something new and different,” Mullally proclaimed, setting the stage for an evening of mostly unexpected winners.
As if opening the door for a new crop of creative types, Mullally offered words of encouragement for fellow thesps who haven’t yet hit it big.
“This is also for all of the people out there in this profession who haven’t yet been able to find their niche and who have wonderful things to offer us and great stories to tell and great dreams yet to be realized,” she said.
Like Mullally, fellow “Will & Grace” player Sean Hayes won an Emmy on his very first nomination.
“This feels awfully strange,” said Hayes, who won for supporting actor in a comedy. “I didn’t get the book beforehand to help you in what you say.”
In a true surprise, “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Patricia Heaton took the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series — her second nomination and first win. “Life is really amazing,” Heaton said.
In what was perhaps the emotional high point of the evening, recently retired “Spin City” star Michael J. Fox took comedy actor honors and gave what might be interpreted as a farewell speech — for now.
“It’s been a great ride — and stay tuned,” Fox said.
On the drama side, at least Tony Soprano doesn’t need to take a hit out on anyone: Gandolfini’s win as best actor in a drama comes a year after TV wife Edie Falco won drama-actress honors. Gandolfini couldn’t help but notice his physical similarities to last year’s winner, “NYPD Blue’s” Dennis Franz.
“I can’t really explain this, except for I think the Academy has an affinity for slightly overweight bald men,” Gandolfini said.
Freshman drama “Once and Again” also picked up one nod, courtesy actress winner Sela Ward. The trophy was the second for Ward, who won an Emmy in 1994 for “Sisters.”
“West Wing’s” tally also included Allison Janney, as supporting actress in a drama, and Richard Schiff, for supporting actor in a drama.
“I’m standing here for one reason — because of the sheer inspiration I’ve received from watching other actresses over my life, particularly in the theater,” Janney said.
“Wing’s” Thomas Schlamme took the drama directing Emmy, and the series’ Rick Cleveland and Aaron Sorkin won the drama writing Emmy.
“Will & Grace” wasn’t the only new comedy making waves with voters. Fox’s freshman laffer “Malcolm in the Middle” took two awards, for directing in a comedy series (Todd Holland) and writing in a comedy series (creator Linwood Boomer).
“I’m flabbergasted,” Boomer said. “I really thought (“Everybody Loves Raymond’s”) Ray (Romano) and Phil (Rosenthal) were going to get it.”
Boomer also made one of the night’s few onstage comments of the regarding the current Screen Actors Guild commercial strike and a possible strike next year by writers and actors.
“I left my yellow ribbon at home but I’m totally with you guys,” he said. “Don’t give up.”
Besides best miniseries, “Corner” also cleaned up with directing in a mini or movie, which went to Charles Dutton, and writing for a miniseries or movie (David Simon and David Mills).
“There goes my acting career,” Dutton joked.
“Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays with Morrie” dominated the made-for-TV movie awards, taking home the nod for best telefilm. In addition, stars Jack Lemmon (lead actor in a miniseries or movie) and Hank Azaria (supporting actor in a miniseries or movie) won trophies.
“Morrie” beat out such works as “RKO 281” and “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” for best telepic. “RKO” went into the awards with a whopping 13 noms, the most of any TV movie, but ended up with three (none from Sunday night); “Dandridge” didn’t win the big prize but ended up with the second-highest tally of Emmys this year (behind “West Wing”), with five.
The “Morrie” win was Lemmon’s second-ever Emmy (after a win for the 1972 “Jack Lemmon in ‘S’Wonderful, ‘S’Marvelous, ‘S’Gershwin.’ ”
“I have been fortunate enough to have received a couple of honors this year for this wonderful Mitch Albom story about a wonderful man,” said Lemmon, who received a standing ovation as he made his way to the stage.
Accepting her first-ever Emmy, for lead actress in a miniseries or movie, Halle Berry (“Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”) gave thanks to a supportive black community.
“This has been an amazing journey in my life and this award ends it in the most beautiful way,” Berry said.
On the variety, music or comedy series front, “Late Show with David Letterman” landed its third consecutive (and fifth overall) Emmy.
“Dave, if you’re watching at home, it looks like the fake heart surgery paid off,” exec producer Rob Burnett said in his speech. “We had a couple difficult moments this year. For us, it’s the second best night of the year. The best for us was five weeks after Dave’s surgery when he came back in the Ed Sullivan Theater, sat down and made fun of a lot of you people.”
In the variety, music or comedy special award — a category consistently won by other award shows (e.g., the Oscars or the Tonys) — one of TV’s home-grown veterans won this year: “Saturday Night Live: The 25th Anniversary Special.”
“A minute ago I was sitting there thinking, ‘Here I am nominated for the same award, in the same category, for the same show that I was 25 years ago. My career has stalled,'” said exec producer Lorne Michaels. “But now I’m up here and I feel much, much better.”
Louis J. Horvitz won one for the movie guys, picking up directing for a variety or music program for his work on the “72nd Annual Academy Awards.” As tradition, Horvitz gave his speech while directing the Emmycast.
Notable no-shows included British cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard, who won twice for his critically heralded HBO special “Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill.”
Izzard, currently on location in Vienna, took the Emmy for performance in a variety or music program, and writing for a variety, music or comedy program.
Also absent: Vanessa Redgrave, who won the Emmy for supporting actress in a miniseries or movie (“If These Walls Could Talk 2”), was in London rehearsing for the soon-to-open play “The Cherry Orchard.”