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'Fargo,' 'Sling Blade' Win Top Writers Guild Honors


"Fargo," a black comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen, and "Sling Blade," Billy Bob Thornton's tale of a man returning home after 25 years in a mental institution, won the top feature film honors at the 49th annual Writers Guild of America Awards, handed out at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Sunday night.

Timed to take place a week before the Oscars, the WGA Awards have corresponded to the selections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 80% of the time.

In winning the category of best original screenplay, "Fargo" beat out "Lone Star," "Secrets & Lies," "Jerry Maguire" and "Shine."

"Sling Blade," the best adapted screenplay, edged aside "Emma," "The English Patient, "Trainspotting" and "The Birdcage," which, with "Jerry Maguire," were the only major studio nominees.

"Unlike so many studio releases, 'Fargo' and 'Sling Blade' are the singular vision of a sole writer or team, not rewritten by others," said Cheryl Rhoden, director of public affairs for the WGA. "Though we've seen an ever-increasing number of independent entries coming in, Gramercy's 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' was the only previous [independent] winner [in 1995]. This year, for the first time, they swept."

In the categories for television series, an episode of NBC's "Seinfeld" called "The Pool Guy," written by David Mandel, was named best comedy, and an episode of ABC's "NYPD Blue" called "Girl Talk," written by Theresa Rebeck (from a story by Rebeck and Bill Clark), won as best drama.

Two TV movies shared the award for best original long-form program: Lifetime's "Hidden in Silence," by Stephanie Liss, about a Polish teenager who hid 13 Jews from the Nazis during World War II, and CBS' "Harvest of Fire," by Richard Alfieri and Susan Nanus, about an FBI agent whose investigation of barn burnings in Amish country causes her to reevaluate her life.

CBS' "The Boys Next Door," William Blinn's adaptation of Tom Griffin's play about the residents of a home for the mentally ill, was named best long-form TV program adapted from another medium.

Other WGA winners:

Comedy/variety series: "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," written by Jonathan Groff, Brian Kiley, Janine Di Tullio, Tom Agna, Chris Albers, Tommy Blacha, Brian McCann, Brian Reich, Michael Gordon, Mike Sweeney, Greg Cohen, Andy Richter, Conan O'Brien, Ned Goldreyer, Dino Stamatopoulos, NBC.

Comedy/variety special: "HBO Comedy Hour: Dennis Miller Citizen Arcane," written by Dennis Miller, HBO.

Daytime serial: "All My Children," written by Agnes Nixon, Lorraine Broderick, Hal Corley, Frederick Johnson, Gail Lawrence, Jeffrey Beldner, Christina Covino, Courtney Simon, Millee Taggart, Karen Lewis, Elizabeth Smith, Michelle Patrick, Bettina Bradbury, Judith Donato, Kathleen Klein, Jane Owen Murphy, ABC.

Documentary (current events): "Frontline: The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson," written by Marshall Frady, Mark Zwonitzer, PBS.

Documentary (other than current events): "Paving the Way," written by Susan Kim, PBS.

News--regularly scheduled, bulletin or breaking report: "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather: The Crash of TWA Flight 800," written by Jerry Cipriano, Hugh Heckman, Paul Fischer, Laura Palmer, CBS.

News--analysis, feature or commentary: "20/20," written by Patricia K. Dauer, ABC.

Children's script: "Goosebumps: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom," written by Dan Angel, Billy Brown, Fox.

Radio documentary: "Christmas Past," written by Jim Benes, CBS/WBBM-AM.

Radio news--regularly scheduled: "World News This Week," written by Stuart H. Chamberlain Jr., ABC.

Radio news--analysis, feature or commentary: "Perspective: Much Ado About the Bard," written by Mike Silverstein, ABC.

On-air promotion: "CBS Promotions," written by Carolyn E. Davis, CBS.

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