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THE 50th ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS | The Scene / BACKSTAGE
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Memories From The Golden Year

September 14, 1998|GREG BRAXTON and PAUL BROWNFIELD and SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Cool.

That's how the cast and producers of NBC's "Frasier" characterized making Emmy history Sunday night by winning a fifth consecutive award as television's best comedy series, the most ever won by any sitcom or drama series.

"It feels pretty cool, isn't that right, everyone?" "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer said to the mass of actors, writers and producers who crowded around him backstage following the four-hour ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium that honored the best in nighttime television during the 1997-98 season. They all nodded in gleeful agreement.

The historic win came on a night when Helen Hunt became the only actress to win an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year (for "Mad About You" and "As Good as It Gets"), and a low-profile series about a struggling law firm, ABC's "The Practice," beat out seasoned and more popular veterans such as "ER," "NYPD Blue" and last year's winner, "Law & Order."

Grammer, who also collected his third Emmy as best actor in a comedy, attributed "Frasier's" record streak to an "extraordinary group of writers and people" and "a great collaborative spirit" on the show, which is approaching a new phase Sept. 24 as it enters the hallowed Thursday night time period vacated by "Seinfeld."

"We've stuck together for a while; we're always encouraging of each other," Grammer said. "We love each other a great deal."

The actor said he had mixed feelings before Sunday about whether the comedy could achieve the milestone. But a little ball told him it was in the bag.

"I have one of those eight balls" that tell the future, Grammer said. He shook and consulted the ball five years ago on the first nomination of "Frasier," and the ball responded, "Yes, without a doubt."

This time around, he shook the ball again.

"Yes, without a doubt," came the response.

Much less certain of winning was David Hyde Pierce, who plays Frasier's sophisticated but silly brother, Niles. He said he was stunned to be awarded his second Emmy as best supporting actor in a comedy series, particularly since one of the other nominees in the category was the late comedian Phil Hartman.

"I mean, with Phil and the guys from 'Larry Sanders' and Jason Alexander, I'm literally in shock," said Pierce, saying that hearing his name announced "was like a train wreck."

He added that the loss of Hartman "is so hard to calculate, but fortunately he did so much work in his life that we'll be able to watch him for years."

*

Helen Hunt, star of NBC's "Mad About You," stood before the press with yet another statuette, this one her third Emmy as best actress in a comedy series. The Emmy comes on the heels of her best actress Oscar this year for "As Good as It Gets."

"I'm so proud of the work I did in that movie and so proud of the work I did on this series," she said. "This year has been a dream year for me."

Asked if this would be the last season for "Mad About You," Hunt said: "We're trying to concentrate on doing really funny shows that we can be proud of, so [the show ending] is something we'll address later this season."

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Shortly after winning his Emmy for portraying former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Gary Sinise learned Wallace had died late Sunday at age 79.

"It's a strange feeling," said Sinise, who won as outstanding actor in a movie or miniseries for TNT's "George Wallace."

"I really believe George Wallace had a spiritual redemption," Sinise went on to say about playing a figure for whom his feelings were ambivalent. Sinise said he believed Wallace proved that he was truly sorry for his segregationist politics when he went into Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta and asked for forgiveness.

*

Dylan McDermott, the star of ABC's "The Practice," said the Emmy for outstanding drama series has brought the legal series "full circle. Either we're at the end or at the beginning, but it's a great, great feeling," he told reporters.

"We're the little engine that could," said the drama's co-executive producer, Jeffrey Kramer.

After a rough start with ABC, which scheduled the series on Saturday nights last season, producers are hoping that the Emmy will give "The Practice" an added boost in its new time period of Sundays at 10 p.m.

*

The third time was the charm for Lisa Kudrow, winner for best supporting actress in a comedy series for NBC's "Friends." But she said it felt strange to be the only performer in an ensemble show to be nominated, much less to win.

"It's actually kind of strange to be at an event about the show and we're not all here," she said of her five co-stars. "They do work [that's] just as good as mine."

Kudrow was also surprised at winning against some sentimental favorites in her Emmy category. "I thought Julia Louis-Dreyfus--you know, it's her last year [on "Seinfeld"]. Same with ["Cybill's"] Christine Baranski."

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Garry Shandling said he was thrilled that his HBO series, "The Larry Sanders Show," finally got its Emmy due: "I thought we weren't going to win anything."

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