White House drama, West Wing and Will & Grace clean up at Emmys

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

All the president's men – and a woman cast member, too – helped make TV history Sunday night when NBC's The West Wing won the most Emmys ever in a single season.

The freshman show's five awards in major categories, added to the four it received last month in technical categories, broke the record of eight statues won by NBC's Hill Street Blues in 1981 and equaled by that network's ER in 1995.

Most of The West Wing's victories came in direct competition with HBO's The Sopranos, which won just one Emmy for James Gandolfini's performance as mob boss Tony Soprano. The two series had tied with 18 nominations apiece, leading all comers.

"The Sopranos is one of the great achievements in the history of television," West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin said as he accepted his series' Emmy for best drama series.

NBC's Will & Grace was the night's other big winner. It was named prime time's best comedy series and also won awards for supporting actors Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes.

Max Mutchnick, the show's openly gay co-producer, which features two gay characters, said the award "really indicates a whole new meaning to the phrase 'acceptance speech.'"

Hosted by comedian Garry Shandling, the three-hour telecast was amusing in spots but seldom inspired.

The night was unusually rich, however, in first-time winners and diversity, both sexual and racial.

Unlike recent ceremonies, there were no repeat victors in any of the comedy or drama competitions.

Mr. Gandolfini fittingly referred to four-time winner Dennis Franz (detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) when he said, "I can't really explain this. I think the academy has an affinity for slightly overweight bald men."

Allison Janney and Richard Schiff of The West Wing also were first-time winners, as were Ms. Mullally and Mr. Hayes. And Patricia Heaton ended Helen Hunt's four-year hold on the best-comedy-actress Emmy by winning for her work on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Michael J. Fox, who had won three Emmys on Family Ties, took home his first trophy for ABC's Spin City, which he left after last season because of his affliction with Parkinson's disease.

"It's been a great ride, and stay tuned," he said.

Sela Ward, a previous Emmy winner for the series Sisters, scored for her performance on ABC's Once and Again.

HBO's The Corner won three Emmys, including best miniseries. Produced by former Roc star Charles S. Dutton, the searing drama looked at life in a drug-infested black Baltimore neighborhood.

Mr. Dutton praised HBO for backing a drama that possibly could help "derail a form of genocide in those communities."

HBO's Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which dramatized the life of the first black performer nominated for a best-actress Oscar, won an Emmy for Halle Berry for her title role performance.

In the best-made-for-TV-movie competition, however, Oprah Winfrey's production of ABC's Tuesdays With Morrie broke HBO's seven-year winning streak. It was the first broadcast movie to win since 1992, when NBC's Miss Rose White won. Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria also took acting awards for the drama, which is based on the huge best seller.

CBS, dubbed the "Tiffany Network" for its long history of standout programming, had a notably lean Emmy night. The network partly saved face late in the evening when Ms. Heaton won.

CBS' only other Emmy was for Late Show With David Letterman, which won best variety, music or comedy series for a third straight year. "Dave, if you're watching at home, looks like the fake heart surgery paid off," said producer Rob Burnett.

The network also received a consolation prize. An opening taped comedy sketch lampooned CBS' hit summer series Survivor, with Mr. Shandling selected to host the Emmys in competition with castaways Andy Richter, Craig Kilborn, Cheri Oteri and Arsenio Hall.

Mr. Shandling then recycled many of his jokes about being unlucky in dating, relationships and as a previous Emmy nominee. The night's sharpest line was from another comic, Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher.

"Ya like the tux?" he asked. "It's a Dick Cheney. The pockets are lined." Here's how the networks fared in total Emmy wins Sunday night:

NBC: 9

HBO: 8

ABC: 6

CBS: 2

Fox: 2