Sunday, July 23, 2000

Emmy awards are a hit-and-miss show

        PASADENA, CALIF. — In this presidential election year, will The West Wing score a landslide victory at the Emmy Awards?

        Probably not.

        NBC's superb freshman drama about White House politics tied The Sopranos for most nominations with 18. But the HBO mob family drama had 16 nominations last year — and came home with only four.

        At least The West Wing has a fighting chance at winning on Sept. 10 (8 p.m., Channels 9, 2), with nominations for Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Stockard Channing, outstanding drama and writing.

        The same can't be said for many other quality shows — Once and Again, Drew Carey, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Malcolm in the Middle, to name a few — which were virtually snubbed this year.

        But the Emmy folks, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, did get some things right. The entire casts of Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond received individual nominations. George Clooney's Fail Safe has five nominations.

        And Ally McBeal, last year's best comedy, was dropped from the category this year after a dismal season.

        The Emmys, Hollywood's most unpredictable awards, are even more impossible to pick this year because of a change in voting procedure. Academy members — actors, producers, directors, writers and behind-the-camera experts — for the first time will be able to watch tapes at home and vote, instead of screening shows together in groups of 40 or more.

        So as many as 1,500 people — instead of merely 500 — may vote on the best drama and comedy categories, Academy Chairman Meryl Marshall told the Television Critics Association meeting here this month.

        “When I hear 450 people (voting), that's bigger than my audience was,” jokes Emmy host Garry Shandling, who was nominated 40 times for his HBO talk show spoof, The Larry Sanders Show. He won once, for best comedy writing, after HBO canceled the show.

        Tom O'Neil, author of The Emmys, ($21.95; Perigee Books) told TV critics that allowing voters to watch at home, with nobody to forcing them to view every minute of every show, is “one of the worst show business tragedies,” he says.

        “The Emmy Awards was the only award in show business history that guaranteed that every single nominee will be seen by every voter,” Mr. O'Neil.

        The group judging sessions, established by Rod Serling in 1964, helped low-rated underdogs like Cheers, Mission: Impossible, Hill Street Blues and Cagney & Lacey win awards and renewals for another season.

        “There is nothing less at stake here than the next Hill Street Blues and the next Cheers,” Mr. O'Neil says.

        He fears that the 52nd annual Emmy Awards will turn into a beauty contest for the most popular shows. That would be good news for Will & Grace (11 nominations) and Raymond, which tied perennial Emmy favorite Frasier with nine nominations.

        Frasier has won 22 Emmys from 73 nominations. Raymond is 0-for 15, and Will & Grace is 0-for-12. Maybe this year a statue will end up in the deserving hands of Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Peter Boyle, Doris Roberts, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally, Debra Messing or Eric McCormack.

        Or they could again go to four-time winner John Lithgow, or three-time winners Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce and Michael J. Fox (who could get the sentimental vote after leaving Spin City to battle Parkinson's disease.

        Who knows?

        The only sure thing is that many deserving people aren't eligible for awards. Such as: Billy Campbell (Once and Again); Rich Schroder (NYPB Blue); Noah Wyle and Laura Innes (ER); Frankie Muniz and Brian Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle); Ted Danson and Hattie Winston (Becker); Sara Michelle Gellar (Buffy); Sara Rue (Popular); Bradley Whitford (West Wing); Norm MacDonald (Norm); or the Friends, Raymond and Once and Again writers.

        How can anyone comprehend a TV awards show in which Fox's insipid Family Guy cartoons gets twice as many nominations as The Simpsons? Or a TV institution that continually ignores hugely popular mainstreamhits like Roseanne and the Drew Carey Show?

        At least Drew Carey got one nomination this year.

        For choreography!

        For Mr. Carey, and too many other fine shows, the Emmys are the same old song and dance.

        Enquirer TV Critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.