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The Best Performances of Their Season

September 08, 1996|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

The annual nighttime Emmy Awards are arriving amid the standard gaudy pomp and heraldry, but not before the infallible one (me) weighs in with his own choices.

You're right, this is terribly unjust to those who have labored so hard to make Sunday night's ABC telecast viewer-friendly, for we all know that the actual awards will be anticlimactic after the publication of my personal Emmy picks. Yet fairness here gives way to truth.

Setting a courageous precedent, I have limited my selections this time to shows that I have actually seen. And, of course, this is a partial list due to space limitations.

By the way, be alerted that, unlike yours truly, actual Emmy voters are supposed to judge series and their casts based on a single submission, an episode that may not be representative of the full body of work. For example, even though "The Dana Carvey Show" was tenaciously bad during its wee run on ABC last season, it did air one brilliant episode that could have been submitted for an Emmy and conceivably have earned this otherwise crummy series the top comedy award.

But onward already:

Best comedy series: A strong category (HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" and NBC's "Frasier," "Friends," "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld"), but still a no-brainer. Garry Shandling's HBO series is not only the class of this class, but you could make a case for ranking it TV's best comedy ever. All right, excluding "My Mother the Car."

Best lead actress in a comedy series: Nothing all that inspiring, but Helen Hunt of "Mad About You" edges Patricia Richardson of ABC's "Home Improvement" and Cybill Shepherd of CBS' "Cybill." The other nominees are Ellen DeGeneres of ABC's "Ellen" and Fran Drescher of CBS' "The Nanny."

Best supporting actress in a comedy series: Christine Baranski gets it for being such a woozy blast beside Shepherd in "Cybill." Others in the field are Janeane Garafalo of "The Larry Sanders Show," Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld," Renee Taylor of "The Nanny" and Jayne Meadows Allen of CBS' failed "High Society."

Best lead actor in a comedy series: Another competitive category, but deliver the statuette to John Lithgow of NBC's "3rd Rock From the Sun." Is there a more versatile actor in any universe than Lithgow, who plays poignancy, villainy and broad, physical comedy with equal art? Opposing him here are Shandling of "The Larry Sanders Show," Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier," Jerry Seinfeld of "Seinfeld" and Paul Reiser of "Mad About You" (who also is hosting the ABC telecast tonight).

Best supporting actor in a comedy series: Jeffrey Tambor of "The Larry Sanders Show." And it's about time, although he's facing tough opposition in Jason Alexander and Michael Richards of "Seinfeld," David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier" and Rip Torn of "The Larry Sanders Show."

Best drama series: As a passionate fan of NBC's "Law & Order" and its layered quality in tight spaces, I confess to bias here. Still, it merits the Emmy, with ABC's "NYPD Blue" and Fox's "The X-Files" almost as worthy, and NBC's "ER" and CBS' "Chicago Hope" in the not-far rear.

Best actress in a drama series: Christine Lahti edges Sherry Stringfield of "ER," not only because of her notable skills but also because of something, well, undefinable she delivered in her first season of doctoring with "Chicago Hope" on CBS. Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files," Kathy Baker of CBS' "Picket Fences" and Angela Lansbury of CBS' "Murder, She Wrote" are also nominated.

Best supporting actress in a drama series: This is a nice field, in which Barbara Bosson stands just a bit taller than others for her work as a prosecutor in ABC's "Murder One." Her opposition: Tyne Daly of CBS' "Christy," Juliana Margulies of "ER" and Sharon Lawrence and Gail O'Grady of "NYPD Blue."

Best actor in a drama series: Andre Braugher of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street," if only to make up for previous Emmy voters not even nominating him. Right there with Braugher, though, is Dennis Franz of "NYPD Blue." Other nominees are Jimmy Smits of "NYPD Blue" and George Clooney and Anthony Edwards of "ER."

Best supporting actor in a drama series: Stanley Tucci of "Murder One," hands down. Or is it hands up? The rest of the field: Hector Elizondo of "Chicago Hope," James McDaniel of "NYPD Blue," Ray Walston of "Picket Fences" and Noah Wyle of "ER."

Best miniseries: A&E's swell rendering of "Pride & Prejudice" is most deserving, with NBC's "Gulliver's Travels" the runner-up, should Jane Austen be unable to serve. Showtime's "Hiroshima" and TNT's "Andersonville" and "Moses" are other nominees.

Best movie: Although not exactly Gulliver's Lilliputians, these are shorties compared with some previous years' entries. HBO's "Truman" gets the edge over two other HBO nominees, "The Late Shift" and "Tuskegee Airmen," with stowaways "Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story" from Lifetime and "The Heidi Chronicles" from TNT filling out the category.

Best lead actress in a miniseries or special: Jessica Lange earns the honor for her filmy Blanche in the inexplicably snubbed CBS version of "A Streetcar Named Desire," although Helen Mirren again excelled as British copper Jane Tennison in "Prime Suspect" on PBS. Others cited are Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino of HBO's "Norma Jean and Marilyn" and Sela Ward for "Almost Golden," who may owe her nomination to the kindness of strangers.

Best lead actor in a miniseries or special: Not a particularly special field, but Gary Sinise gave them enough hell in HBO's "Truman" to earn the Emmy over Alec Baldwin of "A Streetcar Named Desire," Alan Rickman of HBO's "Rasputin," Laurence Fishburne of "Tuskegee Airmen" and Beau Bridges of TNT's "Kissinger and Nixon."

Thus, you have the true Emmys, assembled by a TV observer with impeccable taste and judgment. But kids, don't try this at home.

The Emmy Awards will air Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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