Big events shocked the pants off audiences

Emmy-winning shows not only have to be popular and well-executed, they need to shake up viewers — make them feel alive.

Have you ever heard somebody say they were watching “The Sopranos” and fell asleep on the couch? Doesn’t happen much. The series was able to tap into a very dark side of viewers, those who didn’t know what to make of a family man who would drive his daughter to New England to check out potential colleges in season one while, at the same time, would strangle a snitch in broad daylight. But they liked what they saw.

Few shows go out with the kind of publicity and watercooler talk the way “Sopranos” did this year — a black screen and viewers cursing their cable providers. Whether that long-lasting post-

series buzz will translate into an Emmy win is anybody’s guess. Despite six previous nominations for drama series, “Sopranos” has only won the top honor in 2004.

Of course, being on cable means you get a much smaller percentage of viewers than on broadcast, and shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” have dedicated fan bases that run much larger than that of “Sopranos.” Add “Heroes” and “Boston Legal” to the mix, and you’ve got a drama race that may not leave viewers in the dark, but will leave ’em intrigued.

Boston Legal
Network: ABC
Executive producers: David Kelley, Bill D’Elia
Viewers (weekly average): 9.1 million
Season highlight: The scene between Alan Shore and Denny Crane in which they’re talking about the two Americas: the one where there’s tolerance and progressive thought, and the other where homosexuality is considered a disease.
Why it may win: David Kelley’s shows have often fared well at the Emmys. In fact, he’s the only producer to have two of his shows win in the same year — “The Practice” for drama and “Ally McBeal” for comedy in 1999.
Maybe not: On the kudos circuit, the show has shifted between comedy and drama, and that indecisiveness of what genre it fits into might leave voters confused.

Grey’s Anatomy
Network: ABC
Executive producers: Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Mark Gordon, Krista Vernoff, Rob Corn
Viewers (weekly average): 18.7 million
Season highlight: The arc between actress Elizabeth Reaser, who played a Jane Doe patient, and Justin Chambers (Dr. Karev) was terrific in that it felt more real than most of the other plotlines, which seemed more contrived than in seasons past.
Why it may win: “Grey’s” remains hugely popular on the Nielsen chart, and six acting noms means voters are connecting with the characters and the show in a big way.
Maybe not: All the off-camera distractions and dysfunction with “Grey’s” this past season may give voters pause.

Network: NBC
Executive producers: Tim Kring, Dennis Hammer, Allan Arkush, Greg Beeman
Viewers (weekly average): 13.6 million
Season highlight: “Company Man” was filled with suspense, revelation, emotion and a huge climax — a tearful goodbye between Claire and her adoptive father, who then sacrifices himself, mind and body, to save Claire’s life.
Why it may win: Coming in under the radar, “Heroes” was a surprise hit and tapped into a broadcast sci-fi void that hadn’t been filled in a while. That enthusiasm could translate to votes.
Maybe not: It’s difficult for a first-year show to defeat other worthy veterans. Certainly, there have been rookies who bucked the odds, but there may be a feeling that “Heroes” needs to wait its turn.

Network: Fox
Executive producers: Katie Jacobs, David Shore, Paul Attanasio, Bryan Singer, Russel Friend, Garrett Lerner, Thomas L. Moran
Viewers (weekly average): 18.5 million
Season highlight: Det. Michael Tritter (David Morse) proved to be a worthy foe for House, as the good doctor had little leverage against a guy with a badge. House, always resourceful, managed to return to his rueful ways.
Why it may win: Although the other shows here might have a detractor or two, few ill words are spoken about “House,” which has earned its reputation of medical comfort food for the masses.
Maybe not: While nobody should toy with a successful show, the structure — sick patient enters hospital, bad diagnoses followed by correct diagnoses — might not be original enough for voters.

The Sopranos
Network: HBO
Executive producers: David Chase, Brad Grey, Ilene S. Landress, Terence Winter, Matthew Weiner
Viewers (for the series finale): 12.7 million.
Season highlight: Highlight might not be the appropriate term, but what viewers will talk about for decades is the last scene in the series, with the family eating dinner at a local diner and the screen suddenly going black.
Why it may win: Eight years after launching, a case could be made that “The Sopranos,” more than any other series of the past couple decades, completely changed the landscape of television on both a commercial and creative level. With the series over, now could be the time to give Tony and the gang their due.
Maybe not: It has already won before, and while this season might hold a special place in voters’ hearts, many believe the quality of the show topped out a few years back.

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