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Underdogs dig deep for respect

'Mac,' 'Enthusiasm,' 'Richter' may connect with ATAS voters

Emmy voters have rarely been kind to the underdog skein.

The last few seasons have delivered a batch of highly praised comedies — from the faux talker “Primetime Glick” to the whimsical “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” to the more traditional standup-based “The King of Queens” and “The Bernie Mac Show” — but will the Acad ever show them the ultimate respect with an Emmy nom?

If history repeats itself, probably not.

Ken Tucker, TV critic for Entertainment Weekly, feels it’s the TV Acad’s tape-based viewing system that keeps the same candidates in contention year after year, while shows such as “The King of Queens,” a favorite of his, get passed over.

“Emmy voters are presented with tapes of shows that they’re familiar with, and it’s much easier to look at a ‘Frasier’ tape and say that Kelsey Grammer is doing the same great job year after year,” says Tucker. “It’s a shame that Kevin James and Leah Remini don’t get nominated. They’re giving classic-style sitcom performances week after week.”

Tucker sees Acad voters as stuck on HBO and the three large broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — meaning shows on weblets Fox and the WB and other cable outfits get short shrift.

“We’re still miles away from Emmy voters taking seriously the Martin Short performance on ‘Primetime Glick,’ ” Tucker says.

A weblet show that could prove the exception to the rule, Tucker says, is Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show,” “but only if voters are open enough to know where Bernie Mac is coming from.

“They could say, ‘Well, he’s just playing himself,’ but he’s not. It’s really a great performance.” Tucker credits the comic and his producers with toning down the standup’s four-letter-word act without stripping him of his appeal.

Joanne Ostrow of the Denver Post also likes “Mac’s” prospects but for the most part, Ostrow feels many quality programs are not getting their Emmy due.

“It could use a little shaking up,” she says. “It’s really gotten predictable.”

HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Andy Richter” are two shows that Ostrow says don’t play to the masses but stand out as solid comedies. (Tucker says that Richter is being wrongly written off by some as Conan O’Brien’s ex-sidekick and that could hurt the program’s Emmy chances.)

While the above shows, like all Emmy hopefuls, just have to wait to see if they will connect with ATAS voters, cabler Comedy Central faces a unique dilemma come kudo season: Its programs don’t fit into the traditional Emmy comedy category.

“Primetime Glick,” on which Short plays the garrulous host of a fake celebrity interview show, will be entered in the variety, music or comedy program category.

“People have noticed that it does something very different from what Hollywood does, and people enjoy (it),” says Bill Hilary, the channel’s exec VP and general manager who favors offbeat fare. “I think we have to fight harder, (but) we are like a breath of fresh air.”

Hilary thinks that the Emmys should take a page from the Peabodys and create a category that honors innovation, which could be a way for some additional Emmy glory to be shone on Fox’s animated dysfunctional family satire “The Simpsons,” a show Tucker and Ostrow believe has been unfairly relegated to the toon category.

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