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Mob or Political Machinery


Like most of America, I'm on the edge of my seat wondering if NBC's "Frasier" will win a sixth Emmy, and whether Dennis Franz will take home No. 5 as Andy Sipowicz.

Get real.

You could snooze through the Emmys and not miss much. It's the least charismatic of the major awards shows, lacking the allure and mystique of the Oscars and Grammys, for example, because its celebs are already in America's homes on a regular basis. Like, you know, Ray Romano is a peach, but hardly a Zeus even for groupies to swoon over.

And heart-stopping? The only suspenseful contest in Sunday night's telecast is the duel between drama-series nominees "The West Wing" and "The Sopranos." Three other strong series, ABC's "The Practice" and NBC's "ER" and "Law & Order" are in the running, too, but only on paper. This is a two-horse race.

It would be a travesty for arguably the best, most provocative drama series ever to not win a series Emmy during its HBO run. Yet that could happen to "The Sopranos."

Forecasting is hazardous, so put this down only as a hunch: NBC's "The West Wing" wins it tonight, with Josiah Bartlet getting an even bigger bounce from the Democratic National Convention than Al Gore.

"The Sopranos"--an incomparable study of a complex New Jersey crime boss' life as both a family man and brutal mafioso-- got robbed last year when the Emmy went to "The Practice."

Never underestimate Emmy voters' guilt, combined with strong critical support, though. "The Sopranos" would be a clear winner tonight were it not for the emergence of "The West Wing," a well-crafted NBC newcomer riding a crescendo of positive buzz about it being an uplifting antidote to the grime and cynicism of real-life politics.

These timely feelgood winds give Emmy voters a rationale for picking "The West Wing," a hit show whose White House projects clear moral strength, over a superior crime series fogged in moral ambiguity.

Bring some egg for my face. This is one time I'd be pleased to be wrong.

In other Emmy asides:

Comedy : HBO's ever-maturing "Sex and the City" is funny, urbane, tender and supremely acted--a combination no other sitcom has in this abundance. A comedy with such raw libido, however, has little chance of attaining Emmydom, especially in a year when both major presidential tickets have TV sex and raunchiness in their cross hairs. In any case, 2000 feels like a year for the buddies--gay guy, straight gal--of NBC's "Will & Grace."

What's with Showtime's "Beggars and Choosers" being absent from the nominee list, however? Must I again howl in the wild, reminding Emmy voters how witty and well executed it is?

Here's a prediction I'll stand on: Fox's bold new "Malcolm in the Middle" will not win a best series Emmy tonight. In a striking omission, it wasn't nominated. Here's one booming vote for nominee Jane Kaczmarek, though, as best comedy actress for her charming work as Malcolm's weird, neurotic mom.

Miniseries : Although "Jesus" was a prince for CBS, the absolute class here is "The Corner," HBO's superb depiction of African Americans battling drug addiction on the streets of Baltimore, a landmark account of a destructive junkie subculture in aching detail. Because much of it was grueling to watch, though, it probably has less chance of winning than the joke of this category, ABC's "Arabian Nights."

Khandi Alexander has no chance of winning. In the most egregious snub of the nominations, her stunning performance in "The Corner," as a darkly funny crack head who ultimately pulled herself together, went unnominated. As did the fine work of her co-stars, T.K. Carter and Sean Nelson.

Movie: I'm for ABC's "Annie," but if sentiment wins out, as it frequently does, the Emmy will belong to ABC's "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie." If low standards prevail, as they do on occasion, the winner will be HBO's lesbian trilogy, "If These Walls Could Talk 2," the last two-thirds of which was as mundane as TV gets.

Speaking of mundane, I'm outta here.


"The 52nd Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.


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