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THE 52ND ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS

In the End, Politically Correct

Backstage theories abound on who won and why--from 'West Wing' to 'Will & Grace.'

September 11, 2000|GREG BRAXTON and STEVE HOCHMAN and SUSAN KING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After the smoke cleared, the Feds had stopped the mob from going legit.

The heated contest between NBC's White House drama "The West Wing" and HBO's "The Sopranos," which tied for the most Emmy nominations this year with 18 each, resulted in a near shutout for the Mafia drama, while "The West Wing" came away the big winner during the 52nd annual Emmy Awards with a record nine overall wins.

The victory prompted "West Wing" best actor nominee Martin Sheen to gloat backstage while putting his loss to "Sopranos" lead actor James Gandolfini--"The Sopranos' " only win--in perspective.

"James won the most valuable player," said Sheen, who plays the president in the White House drama. "But we won the game!"

Aaron Sorkin, the creator and one of the executive producers of "The West Wing," said, "It's great having what we do recognized. It just feels great."

Gandolfini was obviously happy with his win as mob leader Tony Soprano. But he was also a bit downcast about the show's near shutout.

"It's not great," Gandolfini said. "I thought we should have done a little better--the writers, the cast, [creator] David Chase."

Though defeat of the critically acclaimed Mafia drama was even more difficult for those involved than last year, when the series lost out to ABC's "The Practice," Gandolfini said he didn't think there was any "miscarriage of justice" either year.

He speculated that the show's tone and violence may have turned off television academy voters.

"It's an election year and there are a lot of issues we deal with like violence and drug use," he said. "That is a very small part of 'The Sopranos.' Maybe they want a more positive thing to vote for. We show a family dealing and helping each other, which is positive too. But it's a little dark."

The actor had the final word on his competition. "I'm sure 'The West Wing' is a very good show. I've never seen it."

Joked "West Wing" cast member Rob Lowe: "If 'The Sopranos' had won, we were going to have the president audit them."

He added: " 'The Sopranos' is such a great show. They're going to be around a long time. They'll get plenty of hardware along the way because those guys rock. But I had no inkling it would turn out like this."

*

Some dark corners weren't overlooked by academy members, as it turned into a big night for HBO's "The Corner," a gritty examination of a drug-ridden Baltimore neighborhood for which Charles S. Dutton won for outstanding directing for a miniseries, movie or special. But the veteran actor said he was not going to let the Emmy win get in the way of his day job. His only other directorial effort was HBO's "First Time Felon."

"They're trying to make a director out of me, and I'm resisting," Dutton said. "Since 'The Corner,' I've been hard pressed to find an acting job." Last year Dutton was nominated for an Emmy in the guest actor in a drama category, for a spot he did on HBO's gritty prison drama series "Oz."

Meanwhile, David Simon, one of the Emmy-winning writers of "The Corner," said that if the gritty miniseries about black junkies had not appeared on HBO, it probably would not have been broadcast.

"A lot of criticism about TV being a whitewash is accurate," he said. "Most are not comfortable with controversial images of African Americans. HBO had to be concerned--you either do it right or you don't do it at all. It was HBO or nothing."

*

NBC's "Will & Grace," another of the night's top winners, has gotten much attention this season due to its premise--the friendship between a gay man and a straight woman. While co-creator David Cohan doesn't see the show's success as breaking down barriers on TV regarding gay characters, he does see it as helping to make gays more acceptable in mainstream consciousness.

"The doors were swinging," he says. "There was 'Ellen,' though the problem was she changed the character in the middle. Who knows what might have been if she'd been open from the beginning. But there are new shows coming with gay lead [characters], and it doesn't seem to be a big thing anymore."

Eric McCormack, who plays gay attorney Will, says the biggest concern for the show's cast and production staff is maintaining the quality.

"It feels that we're exactly where we're supposed to be," he said. "Now we have to make sure it doesn't drop off, that this isn't the high point. But with the people [standing] behind me there's no chance of that."

Megan Mullally, the winner of outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for the sharp-tongued Karen Walker in "Will & Grace," said she was never concerned that her role might come off as unsympathetic.

"She has so much joy," she said. "She's very happy. Everything in her world is hunky-dory."

Meanwhile Sean Hayes, who won outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his role as the flamboyant Jack McFarland and often finds himself opposite Mullally, was stumped when asked how his character would respond to winning an Emmy.

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