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HBO, NBC Duel to Standoff

TV: Each network ends up with 24 awards. 'West Wing' is best drama for a third year; 'Friends' is finally recognized as best comedy series.


NBC's "The West Wing" pulled off a rare three-peat as outstanding drama series while "Friends" was recognized as best comedy for the first time in its storied eight-year run at the 54th annual Emmy Awards, which honored the best in prime-time and late-night television programming Sunday night at the Shrine Auditorium.

The evening boiled down to a back-and-forth duel that went down to the final award between NBC, the top-rated broadcast network, which televised the ceremony; and Home Box Office, the pay-cable channel that earned the most nominations this year. All other networks were left far behind them.

For the year, NBC and HBO each finished with 24 awards--including more than 60 categories devoted primarily to technical areas such as editing and sound, which were presented Sept. 14. The next closest networks, CBS and Fox, totaled seven apiece.

By contrast, ABC--a network that struggled for ratings this past season--was shut out in the categories awarded Sunday, receiving just five awards for the past season.

"Friends" is television's top-rated program and is heading into what could be the hit NBC comedy's final year. Although hugely popular, the program had never previously been named best comedy.

Jennifer Aniston was also chosen as best actress for the show. Until last season, the show's six co-stars mutually agreed to submit themselves in the supporting actor categories. Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe, was the only one among them to have won an Emmy.

Similarly, Allison Janney of "The West Wing" promoted herself to lead actress and earned her third consecutive Emmy, having taken home supporting honors in the show's first two seasons.

In what was clearly an upset, Michael Chiklis--star of the gritty police drama "The Shield," carried on the little-seen FX cable network--was named best actor in a drama, beating out "The West Wing's" Martin Sheen and the two stars of HBO's "Six Feet Under."

In fact, "Six Feet Under," a quirky drama that focuses on how people deal with death through the eyes of a family that runs a mortuary, was largely overlooked Sunday. Series creator Alan Ball--an Oscar winner for writing the Academy Award-winning film "American Beauty"--was chosen as best director of a drama series for the first episode.

"Six Feet Under" garnered five awards at the earlier event, including honors for casting, music, makeup and main title design, as well as guest actress Patricia Clarkson.

Before "The West Wing," the last program to earn three consecutive dramatic Emmys was NBC's "L.A. Law," which ended its three-year reign in 1991. The political drama totaled five Emmys, having established a new plateau in its first season with nine and equaled the previous record of eight for its second term.

Ray Romano was named best actor in a comedy for "Everybody Loves Raymond," completing a near-acting sweep for the CBS program, as Doris Roberts claimed her second Emmy in a row as the overbearing mother and Brad Garrett won his first as the title character's set-upon brother.

Garrett--who started his career as a stand-up comedian--drew big laughs with his acceptance speech, saying, "I just hope that this award breaks down the door for Jewish people who are trying to get into show business."

Given that last year's Emmys were postponed twice due to events related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this year's telecast marked what organizers saw as a welcome return to normality, as host Conan O'Brien kept the emphasis on comedy; still, the events of last year were hardly forgotten, including dual honors Sunday related to the special "America: A Tribute to Heroes"--one of them presented by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani--staged to benefit its victims.

As usual, HBO's success in the field of movies and miniseries--a discipline in which the broadcast networks have dramatically scaled back production in recent years--contributed mightily to its final tally.

The subscription service's victory roster included six awards for "Band of Brothers," the epic 10-hour miniseries based on a real-life World War II unit. The $120-million production was named best miniseries and drew a standing ovation for the surviving members of the much-decorated outfit, Easy Company, some of whom were in attendance.

Another HBO project tied to that period--"The Gathering Storm," which documented Winston Churchill's life before World War II--was voted best movie, with additional honors for star Albert Finney and the movie's screenplay.

HBO has now won the award for best movie nine times in the last decade--a streak only interrupted two years ago by ABC's "Tuesdays With Morrie."

Awards are voted on and presented by members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a nonprofit television industry organization, and cover the period from June 1, 2001, through May 31 this year.

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