First-Timers Abound in Wide-Open Acting Races

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

They say you never forget your first time. For Kyra Sedgwick, a first-time Emmy nominee for TNT’s “The Closer,” the thrill of being one of five women nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series was nearly as delicious as the congratulatory five-pound chocolate bar presented to her by “Access Hollywood.”

“I’m going to rip it,” said the star, inhaling deeply. “Oh God, it smells good!”

No doubt, the smell of success is sweet, and the 2006 Emmy nominations doled out many sweet surprises in the form of first-time nominations. Kevin James (“The King of Queens”), Geena Davis (“Commander in Chief”), Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order: SVU”), Steve Carell (“The Office”) and Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men”) are among the well-known stars making their debuts as Emmy nominees.

Some surprises were anticipated in this year’s nominations after new voting procedures were implemented in an effort to level the playing field between the smaller networks and the Big 4. “This year, the usual popular vote was conducted to determine potential nominees, but panels were then set up for the first time to screen episodes from the top 15 finalists for lead series actors and the top 10 vote getters for best comedy and drama to select the five final nominees,” said Tom O’Neil of TheEnvelope.com.

But despite the changes, some experts were shocked when the choices were announced July 6. Among the most glaring omissions was actress Lauren Graham, star of The WB’s “Gilmore Girls.” A number of television columnists, pundits and bloggers had predicted that the star would receive a nomination for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. The new procedures had even been nicknamed “The Lauren Graham Rules.”

Failing to snag a nomination made Ms. Graham’s morning latte a bitter pill to swallow. “I try to stay out of what the chatter is in all show business,” she said at the recent Television Critics Association press tour when asked how she dealt with not being chosen. “I read a lot of Architectural Digest.”

With the nominations announcement timed to accommodate the East Coast morning talk shows, Hollywood-based performers are accustomed to listening for the dawn’s early ring of the phone. “We got a call around 5:30,” said Ms. Sedgwick. “I was with Kev [husband Kevin Bacon] and I kind of crawled over him and said, `I guess it’s yes.”‘

“The Closer” has been a critical and ratings success since premiering in 2005, in large part thanks to Ms. Sedgwick’s character, Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, a quirky transplanted Southerner who’s an expert interrogator.

Ms. Sedgwick agrees that her alter ego is unique: “She’s a very complex, multifaceted character. You never know what to expect of her. She’s a bundle of contradictions,” she said to USA Today. “I feel like she’s written well. People like that she’s funny. They like that she’s powerful. They like that she’s a real person.”

Like Brenda Leigh, “Law & Order: SVU’s” Det. Elliott Stabler is a tough cop, albeit a New Yorker. Actor Christopher Meloni wasn’t expecting a nomination for his role, especially since he had never been recognized before. The actor wasn’t even near a phone.

“I was out on the lake waterskiing,” he told “Access Hollywood.” While he was trying to perfect his moves on the water, “SVU” executive producer Neal Baer called him with the Emmy news. He celebrated by going back on the lake. “Once I’d heard, I was skiing and thought, `I’m skiing better as an Emmy nominee,’ and that’s when I wiped out!” Later, after the news had sunk in, Mr. Meloni said, “The best part of it is the reaction I’ve gotten from my friends. It’s a moment to celebrate with people who mean something to you.”

Appropriate Response

Actor Steve Carell echoed Mr. Meloni’s sentiment. His reaction to being nominated as outstanding lead actor in a comedy was the antithesis of his character on “The Office,” Michael Scott.

Rather than say something inappropriate or embarrassing, Mr. Carell’s statement to the press said, “I am honored and overwhelmed. This is a very exciting moment for everyone involved with the show. We are all extremely honored.”

Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen, who play “Odd Couple”-like brothers on the CBS ratings-topper comedy “Two and a Half Men,” each earned first-time Emmy nominations.

Mr. Sheen was pleased, telling USA Today, “I’m extremely happy for all of the nominations our show received. Everyone worked really hard to achieve this kind of recognition. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

His co-star was even more ebullient. “I wanted to be the cool actor who sleeps through the whole thing, but sadly, that was not me,” Mr. Cryer said. “They announced everything but supporting actor and actress. I wondered, `Did I hear it and just go into denial?’ Turns out they hadn’t mentioned it. I was happy about Charlie and the show getting nominated, so it was hard to be too discombobulated about it. [Later] I got a call from my publicist. Still in my underwear.”

Mr. Sheen will be going up against Kevin James, who stars as Doug Heffernan on CBS’s “The King of Queens.” Mr. James has starred on the show since 1998, but it wasn’t until this year that Emmy has noticed his performance as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series.

Denis Leary, who’s also a first-time acting nominee for his role as firefighter Tommy Gavin on “Rescue Me,” appreciated getting his after just two years on the air compared with Mr. James. “I look at Kevin James, who’s a friend of mine and made me laugh, and it took him almost a decade [eight years] to reach this [nomination]. I guess I should count my blessings,” he told USA Today.

There were a dozen nominations for Fox’s hit drama “24,” including one for Gregory Itzin, his first ever as the duplicitous President Charles Logan. Mr. Itzin’s co-star, two-time Emmy winner Jean Smart, was also nominated for her role as Martha Logan, the first lady. Ms. Smart was very happy for herself, but even more excited for Mr. Itzin. “Nobody deserves it more than him,” she told the AP. “We’re a team. It would be weird if one of us got nominated and the other didn’t.”

Mr. Itzin agreed with his leading lady. “I think we are two sides of the same whole, so it makes sense in that way,” he told USA Today. As for his Emmy first, he said, “For my category, 178 people were nominated. So just to end up being one of five is obviously a big surprise and very gratifying. But in another way, I wasn’t surprised because the show is so damn good, it should get recognized. I’m not just saying that because I’m on it. I watch other shows. I watch this show. It’s the show that everybody sits on the edge of their seat for.”

Another fictional president was also a first-time Emmy nominee this year: Geena Davis of “Commander in Chief.” Ms. Davis won the Golden Globe earlier this year for her role on the show, and a victory at the Emmys would be gratifying.

However, it wouldn’t resurrect the ABC drama; the show was canceled last spring. Still, the award-winning actress was pleased to get the word. “If you’re going to be woken up first thing in the morning, it’s fantastic to have it be such good news,” she said to USA Today.

Will Arnett, who played Gob on “Arrested Development,” received the lone acting nomination for the canceled Fox comedy. His reaction to getting nominated reflects the show’s humor. “I am no longer a virgin of the Emmys,” he told AP.

Craig Ferguson, a first-timer for “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” had a more practical view of being nominated once the news sank in. “Yes! Now there will be something to talk about tonight on the monologue on the show,” he said to USA Today.

The Emmy Awards presentation will air Aug. 27 on NBC from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Conan O’Brien will be the host.