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Sizing Up 2003’s Top Emmy Races

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Beware, Emmy watchers: Those rascally “Sopranos” are back-and poised for revenge. Those cable Mafiosos have never won and now they’re muscling in on the top TV academy gold after sitting out last year’s Emmy race because they had no new episodes during the award’s eligibility period.
That’s just one of many dramas looming over this year’s Emmys, which will be telecast on Fox this Sunday, Sept. 21. What about other back stories, feuds and behind-the-scenes skullduggery?
Here’s a breakdown of the top six races:
Best Drama Series
The contest for the best-drama prize is easily the biggest drama at TV’s top awardcast in 2003. Can the never-defeated “West Wing” make it four in a row? HBO’s paesanos-on-Prozac think they may have a shot at beating it because of the creative turmoil that “West Wing” has suffered recently, so severe that its creator, Aaron Sorkin, parted ways with NBC.
Clearly, Emmy voters are in the recent habit of playing catch-up when it comes to series awards, as they proved by finally honoring “Friends” last year in the comedy lineup. But in the drama race, there’s another contender that’s also overdue for huzzahs. Last year “Six Feet Under” nabbed just one Emmy victory despite 23 nominations. This year it leads again with 16. If “West Wing” is really down and out, then most TV pundits agree that one of the two HBO shows will prevail. But which one?
Best Comedy Series
After eight years of snubbing “Friends,” sometimes not even nominating it for the top series prize, Emmy voters finally wrapped their arms around TV’s most popular comedy last year. Will it happen again? Not likely. The average Emmy voter is a cynical male north of 40 who couldn’t care less that Rachel kissed Joey in the season finale this year. They only hailed it in 2002 when bullied into doing so by the media.
“Sex and the City” is more of an Emmy show-it’s a little edgier and it appeals to Emmy voters’ notorious snobbery. (Remember “Frasier” hogging this category for five years in a row?) But “Sex” won two years ago and may be considered old meat. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” may be ripe for Emmy recognition, especially since it’s about a cynical male north of 40 who works in showbiz. But some award watchers say that that’s the very reason “Curb” won’t win: It targets the average Emmy demographic so exactly that it hurts.
Most TV critics are saying it’s finally the year that “Everybody Loves Raymond,” after four previous losses, will win. Matt Roush of TV Guide said it’s the best comedy on the tube and long overdue. But they’re not taking into account the snobbery factor. Those people on “Raymond” look like scary riffraff to uppity Emmy voters who live in Beverly Hills. The Barones are the kind of people you hire to clean your pool and fix the Jaguar, not invite to sit at your table.
Sure, Emmy voters will give the cast acting awards. They’re good about that-singling out a performance from the whole. They even once gave Roseanne Barr a Best Actress Award. But one of the greatest oversights in Emmy history was the fact that Roseanne’s TV show, winner of the top Golden Globe and the top Peabody Award, was never nommed for Best Comedy Series in its nine years on the air.
Best Drama Actor
Martin Sheen has never won an Emmy for “West Wing.” It’s time he called in the National Guard, but the fellow resigned TV’s presidency at the end of the last season when he could no longer cope with the ordeal of his daughter’s kidnapping.
Mr. Sheen did that in the episode he gave to Emmy voters as the best sample of his acting work from the past year. Those episodes usually decide who wins and Mr. Sheen chose wisely this year, not opting for one of those pulpit-pounders that used to make him look so arrogant.
But he may take another pounding himself again this year from James Gandolfini. Mr. Gandolfini and “Sopranos” co-star Edie Falco both submitted “Whitecaps,” the most critically hailed single episode of any series in the 2002-03 season. Mr. Gandolfini has big, muscular acting scenes with his wife as she tosses the gruff Mafia boss out of the house. Curiously, he eventually accepts his fate, which makes the thug strangely sympathetic and could win him his third Emmy.
Best Drama Actress
Diva Smackdown! After booting Tony Soprano, all Edie Falco has to do now is deck Allison Janney. But it’s not going to be easy to take down the undefeated Emmy champ. Ms. Janney is 3-for-3. She even won last year when she didn’t deserve to-for an episode in which she had less than 10 minutes of face time. Now she’s in every scene of “The Long Goodbye” as she sorts out the horror of her father’s Alzheimer’s disease. But Ms. Janney’s “West Wing,” even when OK, is no match for “Sopranos” at its most superb. Expect Ms. Falco to rule.
Best Comedy Actor
How did Ray Romano win last year? It’s rare that stand-up comics claim acting kudos. Mr. Romano’s back in the game this year, thanks to the “Counseling” episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in which he bares his wife-pecked soul while going to a marriage counselor.
But most TV critics are picking Tony Shalhoub to win. He’s the only new blood in a top Emmy race, and he has a few advantages: He stars in a show, “Monk,” that’s twice as long as most sitcoms in this category, and it’s really a drama.
He may not have chosen his episode wisely, though. He doesn’t give a big, emotionally nuanced performance in “Mr. Monk and the Aeroplane.” An upset is possible here from “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Larry David, who proved himself a deft performer in his episode “The Special Section,” in which he copes with the crazy news of his mother’s death.
Best Comedy Actress
No nominee has a standout performance. All five could win. It’s the biggest tossup at the Emmys. Jennifer Aniston and Debra Messing have very little face time in the episodes they submitted of “Friends” (“The One Where Monica Sings”) and “Will & Grace” (“The Kid Stays Out of the Picture”). But they both have strong final scenes.
“Malcolm in the Middle’s” Jane Kaczmarek has what Ms. Aniston had last year: the extra-long having-a-baby episode. But she’s too mean in it, a momma-to-be screaming vile things at her own momma. Sarah Jessica Parker obviously just wants to be liked based on her “Sex and the City” submission, “Anchors Away”: There’s little scene work in it. “Raymond’s” Patricia Heaton could’ve prevailed easily if she had submitted “Counseling” or “The Shower,” but opted for “Baggage,” in which she fights with Ray over a piece of luggage unpacked after a family vacation. Not a bad choice. She could still win. But she could’ve had this race in the bag.
Tom O’Neil is the author of “The Emmys” (Perigee Books) and host of the award-predictions Web site GoldDerby.com, which features a full list of episodes submitted to the Emmy judges and predictions from journalists on staff with Entertainment Weekly, the Associated Press and USA Today.