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Its Coffin Overflows

In a 'Sopranos'-less season, the HBO drama 'Six Feet Under' leads all TV shows with 23 nominations. New faces supplant some perennial nominees.


A changing of the guard took place in nominations for the 54th annual nighttime Emmy Awards announced Thursday, as an influx of new series joined the party, elbowing out an older generation of stalwarts, including "ER" and "Frasier."

The most prominent of the newcomers is "Six Feet Under," the HBO drama about a family of undertakers, which--with "The Sopranos" temporarily out of the picture--eclipsed all shows with 23 nominations and figures to provide what might be called stiff competition to NBC's two-time drama winner, "The West Wing."

After complaints from some critics that the Emmy nominations had become their own kind of rerun, with the same faces turning up year after year, several newer programs broke through. The list this year includes Fox's serialized drama "24"; CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which in its second year supplanted "ER" as TV's most-watched hour; and the HBO improvisational comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm," featuring "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David.

Almost as notable as what was nominated, however, is what wasn't, as a number of long-running entries saw their Emmy streaks snapped. The also-rans include "ER" and "The Practice," which had been nominated seven and four consecutive times, respectively; "Frasier," after eight straight nominations and a record five outstanding comedy trophies; and "NYPD Blue" star Dennis Franz, a four-time winner who had also claimed eight consecutive Emmy bids before this year.

That isn't to say well-established shows faded away entirely. NBC's "Law & Order" claimed its 11th consecutive nomination, tying the series record shared by "Cheers" and "MASH," while a resurgent "Friends"--after being overlooked a year ago--earned its fifth best comedy nomination in its eight seasons, as well as lead acting bids for Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry.

Despite being denied another shot at best series, "Frasier" also will have a chance to make history at this year's awards. Nominated in nine categories, including lead actor and supporting actor, the series has received 27 Emmys overall, trailing only "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Cheers"--which garnered 29 and 28, respectively--among the most-honored programs.

Changing the dynamics of this year's competition, the six "Friends" cast members shifted strategy and opted to submit themselves in the lead actor balloting, having previously competed in the supporting actor fields--a decision that rests with the performer. In similar fashion, "The West Wing's" Allison Janney upgraded herself and was rewarded by the Emmy voters with a lead actress nomination, after back-to-back supporting wins in the political drama.

Rounding out the comedy slate are "Everybody Loves Raymond"--a four-time nominee that never has won--and two previous winners in that category: NBC's "Will & Grace" and HBO's "Sex and the City," which in 2001 became the first cable series to be honored as either best comedy or drama.

The most closely watched contest probably will be on the dramatic side. "Six Feet Under" edged the 22 nominations amassed this year by "The West Wing" and last year by HBO's "The Sopranos." That includes a quartet of lead acting nods to Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy and Rachel Griffiths--all first-time nominees.

Created by "American Beauty" writer Alan Ball, the HBO series clearly in part filled a void left by "The Sopranos," which wasn't a candidate this year because its last original episode was shown on May 20, 2001--outside the eligibility period, which covered June 1, 2001, through May 31, 2002.

Bob Greenblatt, one of "Six Feet's" executive producers, said his show qualified on its merits, not because of "The Sopranos' " absence. "I like to believe that we would have been in there anyway," he said. In regard to the nominations in general, including the nod to HBO's quirky "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Greenblatt added: "Everyone says the Emmy doesn't embrace new shows and hip shows. This [indicates] there's a new wind blowing."

For the second straight year, HBO harvested the most nominations of any network, surpassing runner-up NBC by virtue of its continued domination in the made-for-TV movie and miniseries categories. The pay channel, received by roughly a third of U.S. homes, has aggressively used the Emmys and other award showcases as a springboard to market itself--often to the chagrin of the broadcast networks that televise the show.

A senior NBC official, in fact, was heard to tersely suggest that they should bill HBO for the free promotion after it nearly swept the Golden Globes in January. Because of its limited reach, HBO shows generally attract smaller audiences, with "Six Feet Under" regularly viewed by roughly a quarter of the audience that watches the top-rated network drama, "CSI."

HBO again claimed four out of five nods in the movie arena and 19 more for "Band of Brothers," the epic 10-hour World War II miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

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