Standups, docs, dads vie in thesp race

Grammer, Romano, McCormack destined for nom repeat

While this year’s race for lead actor in a comedy could feature several fresh new faces, that’s assuming Emmy voters may break away from the usual suspects, which they rarely do.

According to critics and insiders, three of last year’s nominees seem likely to repeat: Kelsey Grammer of NBC’s “Frasier,” who already has three Emmys and eight other nominations for playing Frasier Crane; Ray Romano of CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” with three acting noms; and Eric McCormack of NBC’s “Will & Grace,” who won last year on only his second outing at the Emmys.

Emmy voters “tend to reward those they’ve already rewarded with nominations,” points out TV Guide critic Matt Roush.

“I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a pretty similar list, even though I think this year there are some new arrivals on the scene who absolutely deserve recognition,” Roush says.

Acting coach Howard Fine, who watches TV with an eye on the performance, is a fan of “Frasier,” in part because of the acting of Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.

“The show harkens back to the wonderful chemistry of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall on ‘The Odd Couple,’ ” Fine says. “You’re already laughing even before they’re in the situation, just knowing where it might go. You never tire of their interactions.”

Adds another acting coach, Cameron Thor: “Great comic acting is as valid as any dramatic performance that you might see.”

David Bianculli of the New York Daily News thinks Romano should win this year.

“He has grown into being a really good comic actor. Romano fills that character so well now. Plus he’s got such a good cast around him,” Bianculli says.

Roush agrees that “Raymond” is “still the premier comedy right now,” but he is a big booster of NBC’s “Scrubs,” and of Zach Braff as its lead.

“It’s a better show than ‘Will & Grace,’ it’s a fresher show than ‘Frasier,’ ” he says. “It’s exactly the kind of show that the Emmys take at least one year too long to acknowledge.”

Aaron Barnhart, critic of the Kansas City Star and proprietor of popular TV Web site, also likes “Scrubs,” and is a vocal supporter of Bernie Mac, star of Fox’s freshman comedy “The Bernie Mac Show.”

“It’s a very fresh and distinctive show and he’s all over it,” says Barnhart. “It’s a breakout role for an African-American comedian.”

Mac, in fact, is the one possible new face that everyone seems to agree on.

“There is an energy to him that crackles,” says Bianculli, although he feels that it may take another year to “break out of the box and be noticed for what he’s doing.”

Roush feels that a failure of Mac to be nominated would be “a real travesty. He has a distinct point of view and a voice. Of all the people whose name is in the title of a show, his most deserves to be. His is the most seriously funny show on television.”

Bianculli also champions former Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter for his Fox show “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.”

“In that single-camera program, if he doesn’t do his job right, there is no sitcom,” Bianculli says. “So much of it is his dialogue, his facial expressions, playing against what’s happening on-screen. It’s a very hard concept to pull off.”

Roush believes that, among the “Friends” cast this season, Matt LeBlanc shone more than anyone.

“Matt actually deserves to win this year. He really became the heart and soul of the show,” says Roush, who also cites David Schwimmer’s work as Ross, a sentiment echoed by Barnhart.

Critics also like to buck the system and two complained about the lack of attention to animated shows.

Barnhart calls Mike Judge’s Hank Hill character on “King of the Hill” “the most understated and underestimated character in comedy,” while Bianculli champions “The Simpsons” and adds that, “in terms of performance, Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) is probably better than anybody else.”

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