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It's NBC and Cable Guys

'ER,' the top-rated hospital drama, helps NBC make a late recovery after seeing other series and stars collect most of the awards early in the telecast.


NBC, television's top-rated network, and "ER," television's top-rated show, seemed to be marooned in sick bay during much of the 48th annual nighttime Emmy Awards Sunday night.

The self-proclaimed "Must See TV" network was getting beaten in many categories, while "ER," which had topped the competition coming in with 17 nominations, was looking anemic as it lost out in the acting, writing and directing contests.

But both NBC and its second-year medical drama were miraculously revived by evening's end.

In a late blitz, NBC scored major wins for best comedy actress (Helen Hunt of "Mad About You"), best comedy actor (John Lithgow of "3rd Rock From the Sun"), best comedy series ("Frasier") and finally, in the final award of the night, "ER" was named best drama series.

"Yes, we were getting worried," "ER" executive producer John Wells confessed backstage later. "You're sitting there, watching all your friends on other shows win. Your emotions get rather confused.

"But winning the best drama award makes up for everything. It makes up for a lot of lost self-esteem."

For the producers of "Frasier," on the other hand, being named television's best comedy series for the third consecutive year was a welcome surprise.

David Angell, one of the show's executive producers and creators, said: "No way this happened." Added Peter Casey, another creator and executive producer: "Three in a row is too good to be true."

Hunt was surprised too, albeit for different reasons. She'd been pessimistic about her chances, partly because she'd been nominated three times previously for "Mad About You" without winning, partly because she was dubbed the favorite this year after Candice Bergen, who won last year for "Murphy Brown," decided not to enter the competition.

"I thought it was the kiss of death" to be considered the front-runner, Hunt told reporters backstage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. "I knocked on wood every time someone said it."

Hunt, who starred in this summer's blockbuster film "Twister," will be moonlighting this fall when she simultaneously shoots the TV series and a feature, "Old Friends," with Jack Nicholson.

"Good fortune smiles when it does," said Hunt, whose "Mad About You" character will be pregnant this fall. "You just keep running and working."

Lithgow said his Emmy win validated his belief in the goofy sci-fi comedy "3rd Rock," in which he plays an alien from another planet living on Earth in the form of a college professor.

"I always believed in the show," he said. "I thought it would be a great success or a quick and adventurous failure."

NBC wound up as the most honored network at the Emmys, collecting 20 awards. Other wins included best miniseries ("Gulliver's Travels"), best supporting actress in a comedy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld"), best comedy writing ("Frasier) and best comedy directing ("Friends").

As the three-hour ceremony unfolded, many of the winners trooped backstage, proudly clutching their Emmys, and briefly spoke to reporters about their emotions and their future projects before rushing back to take their place in the star-studded audience.


Helen Mirren, who won as lead actress in a miniseries or special for her role as the feisty, independent British detective in PBS' "Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness," said she recently finished filming the last installment of the "Prime Suspect" series.

"I think you have to quit while you're ahead, and I'm definitely ahead," she said.


Rip Torn, the first nominee of HBO's acclaimed "The Larry Sanders Show" to receive an Emmy, said he was "totally stunned and electrified when they called my name." He said he thought he had a better chance of winning in the category for guest actor in a drama series for "Chicago Hope." He lost there, however.

When asked what his crafty character, the producer Arthur, would think of his win, Torn quipped, "Artie would say, 'I've never liked that Rip Torn till now, but now he's my boy.' "

Torn added that "The Larry Sanders Show" would continue for at least two more years. He said the cast was having fun and that the production continued to receive praise from Jay Leno and David Letterman for its authenticity in creating the atmosphere of a late-night talk show.


Ray Walston, who won his second Emmy in a row for his role as crusty Judge Henry Bone on "Picket Fences," said he didn't have time during his acceptance speech to talk about the bittersweet ending of the series, which finished its run last season after four years on CBS.

"[CBS Entertainment President] Leslie Moonves had a difficult decision to make," Walston said. "They liked the show and were proud of it. But it's not a mating game, it's a rough, tough rating game."

He then launched into impromptu lyrics from "The King and I": "This ratings game . . . is a puzzlement."

Walston said his future is up in the air: "Tomorrow morning I will sit by the telephone and hope it will ring with a job."

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