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Lovely parting gifts

While 'Into the West' and '24' lead the nomination derby, nods also pour in for ending or canceled series.

July 07, 2006|Robert W. Welkos and Susan King | Times Staff Writers

THERE is sometimes life after death in show business. Come this fall, television viewers won't be seeing "The West Wing," "Six Feet Under" or "The Comeback" returning to prime time. But these shows will be center stage next month at this year's 58th Emmy Awards.

In fact, 14 actors who received Emmy nominations in major categories this year appeared in nine shows that have either been canceled after wallowing in ratings purgatory or retired after growing mossy with age.

That didn't leave room for some of the most talked about shows currently on TV.

"Lost" couldn't be found in the best drama series category. Tony and Carmela Soprano were iced from the acting in a drama categories. And remember those four vixens who inhabit Wisteria Lane in "Desperate Housewives"? They won't have a date for the red carpet at the Emmys on Aug. 27.

Instead, nominees included Geena Davis for her role as the president of the United States in the now-canceled ABC drama "Commander in Chief"; Lisa Kudrow, who played an actress trying to revive her career in HBO's short-lived comedy "The Comeback"; and Martin Sheen in "The West Wing," which NBC retired after seven seasons.

Under rule changes implemented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, many thought that critically acclaimed underdogs and new faces would make their way into the list of contenders. The jury is still out on whether it worked.

"As someone who has been in the business for 18 years, I've seen a lot of very fine work recognized," said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX Networks, which received eight nominations, including for actor in a drama series for Denis Leary in "Rescue Me." "I've also felt that, year after year, it was dreary to wake up and see the exact same people nominated," Landgraf said. "I, for one, applaud the academy for being willing to try something -- to take risks."

But not everyone saw it that way.

"I don't know that we've solved any problems," said Bob Greenblatt, president of entertainment at Showtime, which received 19 nominations, including three supporting-role nods. "There are so many glaring omissions. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I am as mystified for [other networks] as for myself."

This year's major nominees are TNT's epic tale of America's 19th century expansion "Into the West," which received 16. Fox's nail-biting terrorist thriller "24" scored the most for a series with 12. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" came in with 11, including a nod for drama series. The departing "Will & Grace" had 10 nominations.

There is some fresh blood among the nominees, including faces new to television, such as Kyra Sedgwick for TNT's freshman series "The Closer," and several actors who are achieving recognition for their roles in long-running series, such as Christopher Meloni in NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Kevin James in CBS' "The King of Queens" and Charlie Sheen in "Two and a Half Men."

But if the rule changes were designed to boost the Emmy fortunes of such shows as "Gilmore Girls," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Veronica Mars," as had been widely speculated, they didn't seem to work. Only "Everybody Hates Chris" received nominations from this trio -- and not in a major category.

Without such fan favorites as ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" in the mix, and because the telecast has been moved earlier in the year, one network exec thinks that viewership for the awards show could drop 10% to 15%.

The academy's voting guidelines were altered because in recent years Emmy voters were heavily criticized for selecting only hit series. Now the final contenders are selected not at-large but by a panel of Emmy judges. Emmy voters at large will ultimately select the winners.

Michael Patrick King, nominated for directing of a comedy series on "The Comeback," which also won a nod for Kudrow, said he sees the Emmy recognition as more of a celebration than a vindication that the show was canceled too soon.

"The thing I'm happiest about is that just because something is canceled, people didn't turn away," King said. "There's some sort of signal being sent about quality versus finance. I don't know. Stuff gets canceled primarily because people feel they can't syndicate [the show] or make money. Otherwise, more people would be experimenting."

There was a tinge of gallows humor in Peter Krause's remarks after learning he had been selected for his role as mortician Nate Fisher in the HBO drama "Six Feet Under." "It's really strange to be buried and dug out of the ground like this," Krause said.

Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was nominated for the CBS comedy series "The New Adventures of Old Christine," confessed that even though she voted, the rule changes are a mystery to her. "I don't know how it worked." She stands alone in her category as the only actress to have her show return in the fall. Others not returning include "Arrested Development," "Out of Practice" and "Huff."

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