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And the Emmy Oughtta Go to . . .


All right, already.

What am I, stone? Once more, I'm bowing to a public groundswell demanding that I disclose my own choices in advance of Sunday night's telecast of the Prime-Time Emmy Awards on CBS, which Bryant Gumbel is hosting. As one especially eloquent caller said:

"Please, Howard. You're so brilliant. Your taste is so impeccable. Your judgment is so flawless. I implore you to share your unique insights with the rest of us so that we may be guided by your wisdom."

How ... moving. But enough from mother.

Let's get down to business. As for those hairstyling nominations ...

Just kidding.

What follows, though, is all of the sober scoop that can be squeezed into this limited space--profound, weighty and suitable for framing. Or if you prefer, it also fits nicely in the bottom of a birdcage.

Now, the single ground rule: Again, in a display of integrity that has brought me global fame as well as death threats from my fellow TV critics, I am confining my picks to shows that I've actually seen. Or at least heard about.

Best comedy series: Same field as 1996, except for NBC's "3rd Rock From the Sun" bumping NBC's "Friends," in a category where the Emmy last year went to NBC's "Frasier." Also back for another try are NBC's "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld" and HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show."

My feelings about "Seinfeld" and "The Larry Sanders Show" are on the record. I looked up the clips. Exhibiting a level of incongruity that amazes even me, I have called each the best TV comedy ever. I won't try to reconcile that, except to add that both are examples of extraordinary TV art that deserve recognition.

Best lead actress in a comedy series: Same old, same old from last year, which is why Emmycasts are always so exciting and suspenseful. What, me smirk? The nominees are 1996 winner Helen Hunt of "Mad About You," Fran Drescher of CBS' "The Nanny," Cybill Shepherd of CBS' "Cybill," Patricia Richardson of ABC's "Home Improvement" and Ellen DeGeneres of ABC's "Ellen," who is my personal pick for playing a lesbian so persuasively.

Best supporting actress in a comedy series: Last year I opted for returning nominee Christine Baranski of "Cybill." But the more I see of "Seinfeld," the more I appreciate last year's winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as being the best comedic actress on the planet. Not including the gang from "Baywatch," of course. The other nominees are Janeane Garofalo of "The Larry Sanders Show," Kristen Johnson of "3rd Rock From the Sun" and Lisa Kudrow of "Friends."

Best lead actor in a comedy series: Another repeat field, ho-hum, except for Michael J. Fox of ABC's "Spin City" supplanting NBC's Jerry Seinfeld. The others are Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier," Paul Reiser of "Mad About You," John Lithgow of "3rd Rock From the Sun" and Garry Shandling of "The Larry Sanders Show." Agreeing with the Emmy voters, I picked Lithgow last year, and would again except that Shandling had an exceptionally good season. So I flipped a coin. Shandling.

Best supporting actor in a comedy series: The same nominees from last year, albeit they make up arguably the Emmys' strongest field. Lacking the resolve I flashed in 1996, I can't choose among David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier," Jason Alexander and Michael Richards of "Seinfeld" and Jeffrey Tambor and incumbent winner Rip Torn of "The Larry Sanders Show." I just flipped another coin. It's Bob Saget.

Best drama series: Again an exceptionally brawny field, again the same as last year's. CBS' "Chicago Hope" and 1996 winner, "ER," are as worthy as ever. Yet ABC's "NYPD Blue," Fox's "The X-Files" and NBC's "Law & Order" make my list of the best drama series ever. I'll vote again for "Law & Order" ... because I'm helplessly hooked.

Best actress in a drama series: The worthy nominees are Roma Downey of "Touched By an Angel" and Christine Lahti of "Chicago Hope," both on CBS, Julianna Margulies and Sherry Stringfield of "ER," and my choice, Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files." Perhaps like some of her other supporters, when I look deeply into her eyes and feel something stirring, I see a great actress.

Best supporting actress in a drama series: Kim Delaney of "NYPD Blue," Della Reese of "Touched By an Angel" and "ER" women Laura Innes, Gloria Reubens and CCH Pounder are the field. I say Pounder, never underachieving, often undersung.

Best actor in a drama series: More good nominees. A deserving Sam Waterston of "Law & Order" has made the field this year, as has David Duchovny of "The X-Files," joining Anthony Edwards of "ER" and Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz of "NYPD Blue." Franz, taking absolutely no prisoners as one of the most interesting and complex of all TV characters, had another memorable season and shouldn't be denied just because he won in 1994 and 1996.

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