It was something old and something new at the Emmys.
“The Sopranos” made history by whacking its dramatic competition in its swan-song year, and the ratings-challenged new sitcom “30 Rock” rolled to a much-needed win.
By being crowned best series at the 59th annual Primetime Emmys Sunday, HBO’s mob series becomes the first drama to record a walk-off Emmy in three decades — an understandable trend, given the heat that traditionally tends to surround newer kids on the block.
Although “Everybody Loves Raymond” left in high style two years ago, before that the only final-season recipients were “Barney Miller” in 1982, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Upstairs, Downstairs” in 1977.
“Sopranos” also feathered its Emmy nest — which included a previous best drama win in 2004, out of seven total best drama nominations — with awards for director Alan Taylor and series creator David Chase in the writing category.
Stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, however, must settle for the Emmys they took home in 2003, coming up on the short end of the voting to “Boston Legal’s” three-time winner James Spader and Sally Field for another ABC drama, newcomer “Brothers & Sisters.”
The win against Gandolfini prompted Spader to say, “I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob.”
Completing a rather remarkable arc, “30 Rock” goes from being that other “Saturday Night Live”-inspired backstage TV show that NBC developed in 2006 – the other being the since-canceled “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” – to an Emmy recipient, albeit one much in need of whatever benefits that honor carries based on its little-seen freshman year.
Series creator and star Tina Fey thanked the show’s “dozens and dozens of viewers,” while expressing hope that the new regime at NBC will be as supportive as the one that developed the show.
Adding the 29 awards presented Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium (for the first time employing an in-the-round setting) to the Sept. 8 Creative Arts Emmys — primarily recognizing technical achievements — HBO finishes the 2006-07 award season with 21 trophies, five fewer than last year. The pay channel nevertheless amassed the highest overall haul for the seventh consecutive year and the eighth time in the last nine, including a pair of ties with NBC in 2001 and ’02.
NBC — the network currently bringing up the rear ratings-wise — nevertheless ranked as a strong second with 19 Emmys, and the victory for “30 Rock” provides a significant promotional lift heading into the fall.
The Peacock network’s tally was buoyed by “Tony Bennett: An American Classic,” which, with a quartet of technical honors, totaled seven awards to emerge as this year’s most-honored program — including Emmys Sunday as best special and for directing. Bennett was also a lauded for his performance, in a category that awkwardly situated him opposite such variety series hosts as David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
ABC can also revel in a number of key victories Sunday, including five of eight prizes in the lead and supporting acting series field, tying CBS for third place among networks, with 10 overall.
By contrast, it was a dreary night in primetime awards-ville for CBS and Fox, as they settled for one award between them — the former’s “The Amazing Race,” which remains the only series ever anointed in the reality competition field, again freezing out ratings juggernaut “American Idol.”
After an extended period of sameness in the best-series voting, the TV academy can now boast that there hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since “The West Wing” completed its four-year term in 2003.
The ceremony was also largely dominated by newcomers — or at least, first-time Emmy winners — on the acting front, injecting additional new life into the results.
Perhaps foremost, the Emmy completes a fairy-tale year for “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera, including a Golden Globe in January that subsequently led to being lauded by a member of Congress for providing “a role model for young Latinas.”
In what was clearly much more of a surprise, Ricky Gervais was named best actor for HBO’s backstage comedy “Extras,” denying not only Tony Shalhoub — the owner of three of the last four Emmys for USA’s “Monk” — but Steve Carell for “The Office,” in a role Gervais originated in the U.K.
Because Gervais wasn’t on hand, presenters Stewart and Colbert simply gave the statuette to their former “Daily Show” colleague Carell, who gleefully accepted.
Field garnered a third career Emmy and delivered one of the night’s rare overtly political moments, essentially calling for an end to the war in Iraq.
Although actors have enjoyed success in hour-long comedy programs (others including “Housewives'” Felicity Huffman), “Ally McBeal” remains the only hour-long program to break through in that arena. “Betty” also took the directing award, while “The Office” was tapped for writing.
For all the new faces, the night was hardly free of repetition, as two of TV’s gaudiest streaks remain unbroken.
In addition to “Amazing Race’s” amazing run, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” nabbed its fifth straight Emmy as variety, music or comedy series, although “Late Night With Conan O’Brien’s” writing staff — in its 11th bid — was recognized for the first time.
Among the highly competitive supporting acting categories, Jeremy Piven claimed a second consecutive prize as the fast-talking agent in “Entourage,” but all the rest were first-time winners.
Terry O’Quinn found his Emmy for “Lost,” wryly speculating about what it would be like to be on the less-physically-demanding “Desperate Housewives” set “and get one of their checks.” Jaime Pressly (“My Name is Earl”) and Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy” were both overcome with emotion. Heigl said she hadn’t prepared a speech because “My own mother told me I don’t have a shot in Hell of winning tonight.”
Continuing a recent Emmy trend, a pair of oaters dominated the longform voting. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” graced HBO with its 13th outstanding movie in the last 15 years — a string of dominance interrupted only in 2003 (TNT’s “Door to Door”) and 2000 (ABC’s “Tuesdays With Morrie”).
It was also a big night for AMC’s “Broken Trail.” In addition to being named best miniseries, Robert Duvall and Thomas Hayden Church lassoed their first Emmys for the gritty western, with Church tearfully dedicated his award to David and Lynn Angell, who died during the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Angell was a producer of the series “Wings,” which helped launch the actor’s career.
Following up her jewel-encrusted 2006 with “The Queen” and “Elizabeth I,” Helen Mirren yet again received an Emmy — her fourth overall — for PBS’ final “Prime Suspect,” which was also feted for writing and directing. Judy Davis, meanwhile, added a third Emmy to her portfolio for USA’s miniseries “The Starter Wife.”
The TV academy has tinkered with the Emmy voting process the last few years, seeking to address past criticism the org’s uninspired or overly repetitive choices.
Beyond evaluating the academy’s selections in the annual Emmy post-mortem, there’s the little matter of ratings, which declined when NBC shifted the telecast to late August last year to avoid conflicting with primetime football. Fox pushed the event back to its traditional mid-September airdate, but that meant directly going up against football on NBC in most of the country.
Among the evening’s highlights, the audience gave standing ovations to sprawling “The Sopranos” ensemble as well as the reunited cast of “Roots,” commemorating its 30th anniversary. Reflecting a shift in broadcasters’ programming priorities in recent years, no major network was included among the made-for-TV movie or miniseries nominees.
In a sure-to-be-skewered moment among conservative pundits, former Vice President Al Gore – already showered with applause at the Oscars for “An Inconvenient Truth” – received another rousing Hollywood welcome, appearing to take home the first interactive TV Emmy for the Current cable net.