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Frosh shows shake up status quo

Edgy newcomers like '24,' 'Six Feet Under' could dazzle voters

With “The sopranos” hiatus leaving a wide open spot in the drama race this year, several of the year’s freshman shows have a strong chance of joining past favorites such as NBC’s “The West Wing” and CBS’ “C.S.I.” when the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announces the nominees for the 54th annual Prime Time Emmy Awards.

At least that’s the opinion of several observers who watch television or create skeins for a living. After that, well, the drama builds.

Nearly all of them can make a trophy case for Fox’s “24,” former NBC topper Warren Littlefield among them.

“One of the reasons it will get nominated and the reason it’s celebrated is it’s form breaking,” says Littlefield, who runs his own production shingle. “That doesn’t happen a lot — particularly in the dramatic form. It’s really interesting and unique what they’ve done.”

Craig Van Sickle, an exec producer with Steven Long Mitchell of “The Pretender” and the upcoming NBC summer entry “She Spies,” touts “24” and another newcomer.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if ‘Alias’ got a nomination because it’s been highly touted as well,” he says. “It’s very possible.”

But USA Today television critic Robert Bianco wonders if Emmy voters are up to marking “24” or “Alias” on their ballots. “I think it will be the same sad repetition of ‘ER,’ ‘The Practice’ and ‘Law & Order,’ even though none of those three shows had years that deserved to be recognized,” he says.

Among the shows he would vote for are three on the Alphabet web: “Alias,” “Once and Again” and “NYPD Blue.” “It had a remarkably redemptive season after a few bad ones,” he says of the cop drama.

And while Phil Kloer, a popular culture writer and former longtime TV critic at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has often wondered if noms are awarded solely out of habit, this year could be different. He predicts that two freshmen (“Alias” and “24”) and two sophomores (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Six Feet”) will join slam-dunk nominee “West Wing,” the 3-year-old veteran of the bunch.

“That would be pretty unusual, but I think it’s possible,” he says. “Even though Emmy still seems to be somewhat well behind the curve and the cutting edge, they have shown some indications they’re joining the modern era in terms of what they vote for.”

Ellen Gray at the Philadelphia Daily News also likes “C.S.I.’s” chances. “I’m not a huge fan, and I don’t watch it every week,” she says. “But when I do watch it, I can see why people like it. It’s a show that holds together very well.”

She also believes that “NYPD Blue” — a drama series nominee each of its first six seasons (and a winner in its second) — will reclaim its place among the five finalists, calling it a Comeback Kid story.

“I’ve loved ‘NYPD Blue’ for years but I was ready to see it go away. Yet it has come back and interested me.”

Rounding out her predictions: “24,” “West Wing” and “Six Feet Under.”

Gail Shister, TV critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, believes that “Once and Again” has a good shot at being nominated because of its “painfully poignant performances and storylines,” joining “24,” “West Wing” and “Six Feet Under.”  

And there’s that HBO skein again, the one about a dysfunctional family who own and operate a Los Angeles funeral home. Thomas O’Neil, author of “The Emmys,” believes that it will rise to the surface for two reasons: It was last year’s top nominated show, and cable sibling “The Sopranos” isn’t eligible this season.

“In the minds of Emmy voters, it’s logical to assume they will make a kind of HBO slot switch to ‘Six Feet Under,'” he says. “But it probably would have been there anyway. The show has had such a towering presence above the other dramas this past TV season — both critically and commercially.”

Littlefield, the one person polled who has a vote that actually counts in the Emmy derby, says “Six Feet Under” will be in the race, along with “The Practice,” “24” and two shows he was instrumental in bringing to NBC — “ER” and “West Wing,” the drama series winner each of the last two seasons.

“I could make a case for all five of them,” he says.

While “CSI” and “ER” may be the season’s ratings champ among the drama contenders, the John Wells medical skein (which won the Emmy in 1996) is the dark horse in the competition, Littlefield says.

“The real battle lines may be drawn up between ‘West Wing’ as the incumbent and ‘Six Feet’ as kind of a darling, with ’24’ as the wild card,” he says. “But I would never count out ‘The Practice’ because of the unbelievable storytelling and twists and turns that David Kelley brings to that.”

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