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THE 49TH ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS | THE SCENE / BACKSTAGE
SPIN

NBC Lays Down The 'Law'

The peacock network walks away with 24 awards, with 'Law & Order' breaking through in its sixth try at a prize. HBO comes in second with 19 awards, five for 'Miss Evers' Boys' and two for Chris Rock's 'Bring the Pain.'

September 15, 1997|GREG BRAXTON and SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Until Sunday, Susan Lucci and the drama "Law & Order" had been bound by the most unflattering of connections.

They were almost always nominated for Emmys. And they always lost.

Lucci has lost an unprecedented 17 times in her quest to win a Daytime Emmy for her role as Erica Kane on the soap opera "All My Children." And "Law & Order" had come up a loser five consecutive years in the category for best nighttime drama series.

But the connection between the two was finally broken Sunday when "Law & Order" pulled out a surprising last-minute victory at the 49th Annual Emmy Awards, broadcast nationally on CBS.

"I just figured we were the Susan Lucci of prime time," an ecstatic Dick Wolf, executive producer of the 7-year-old legal drama, said backstage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. "I never thought we would have gone 0-for-5. It's great that the curse is over."

In winning the Emmy, the New York-based series beat out television's highest-rated program, "ER," which was shut out Sunday, and "NYPD Blue," which looked as if it were going to walk away with most of the evening's major drama series awards. Also nominated in the category were "Chicago Hope" and "The X-Files."

Wolf praised the large writing staff on "Law & Order," which has stuck to his original formula throughout its run: one half police investigation, one half legal wranglings involving the district attorney's office. "The writing has always been the strength every week," Wolf said.

The drama has also survived numerous cast changes: There are no members of the original cast who are still with the show.

"We've just had incredible luck," said Wolf, recalling the concern from NBC when series lead Michael Moriarty, who played Assistant Dist. Atty. Ben Stone, quit in 1994 after a highly publicized rift with Wolf.

"I remember when [NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield] called in a blind panic when Michael left, saying, 'What are we going to do?' " Wolf said.

"Time and time again we've come back," said Wolf. "Now we're as strong as we've ever been."

The win by "Law & Order" was just one of several surprises through the evening. Among the fresh and unexpected victors were Gillian Anderson as outstanding lead actress in a drama for "The X-Files," Kristen Johnston for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for "3rd Rock From the Sun," and Chris Rock, who won two Emmys for his raucous HBO special, "Bring the Pain."

Rock's wins were the icing on the cake for HBO, which earned a record 19 awards for cable between Sunday's ceremony and last week's nontelevised creative arts awards presentation. That total was second only to NBC, which collected 24.

For the fifth straight year, HBO won the Emmy for best television movie, this time for "Miss Evers' Boys," which also won the President's Award and an acting Emmy for Alfre Woodard.

Backstage, Woodard and Laurence Fishburne, who both produced and acted in the film about a controversial government study of the effects of syphilis on a group of black men, addressed criticism leveled at HBO this week by broadcast network executives who said the cable network enjoyed an advantage in competing for Emmys because of its higher budgets and looser content standards.

Said Woodard: "It comes down to where the story is. Rather than complaining, these other people should get busy and start producing better stories within their constraints. They should pay less attention to the sponsors and get ballsy."

*

In her backstage appearance, Ellen DeGeneres became teary-eyed following her win for best writing on a comedy series for the episode of "Ellen" in which her character declared she was a lesbian.

"I'm extremely emotional," DeGeneres said. "This is much bigger than I thought."

She said she felt it was a vindication of her series following the season-long turmoil over whether her character would come out.

"There was a lot of pressure for us to do something really great," she said. "That's hard enough to do anyway on TV. But it's really to reflect that there are gay people in society, and that we are OK."

She paused, then added: "I didn't have anything like that when I was growing up. Of course, Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda were lovers, but they never talked about it."

*

Comedian Rock, who won two Emmys for his HBO comedy special, "Bring the Pain," also saw broader meaning in his victory: for the art of stand-up comedy.

"It's nice to see stand-up comedians get respect. They're probably the lowest people on the totem pole. I feel like I won for all the stand-ups. When people meet them, they always ask if they wrote their own material. No one thinks they're that smart. No one ever asks a singer if they wrote their own songs."

Rock said he suspected he might win in the writing category "because it was just me against these teams of 12 guys," but even so, he hadn't prepared an acceptance speech.

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