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Emmy 2000: parting shots - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER -- Garry Shandling was in top comic form. Sure, it wasn’t as sane and civil as a Bill Cosby or a Bob Newhart hosted affair, or that of a Johnny Carson do, for that matter. It was more in the vain of his former incarnation, the moody, self-depreciating and conceited Larry Sanders. Better yet, that more prone to his former medium - cable.

Last Sunday’s exercise in show business aggrandisement was an effective display of skin and glamour. The television industry gathered at the Shrine Auditorium, where no less than 5 months ago the film industry celebrated Oscar. It was Emmy’s night this time, although the set was eerily reminiscent of the Oscar set (i.e. squares all over,) including the podiums used, which I swear were from the Oscar telecast of last March.

As the industry got together to pat themselves on the back, it was a royal horse race between mainstream television versus cable. Although the mainstream (The West Wing) triumphed over cable (The Sopranos) it was an interesting night.

The opening number pitted Arsenio Hall, Cheri Oteri, Craig Kilborn, Andy Richter and Garry Shandling. It was a Survivoresque contest that would select the Emmy host. It was a segment in the vain of those film clips that Billy Crystal makes when he hosts the Oscars. It failed on two fronts. First, the segment dragged on much like that damned Survivor show. Also, the inside jokes were fine and funny, although would yield deaf ears from housewives in Kansas City and Tallahassee.

Although Shandling went on in his monologue using words like ‘genital’ and ‘orgasm’, generally he was funny and fresh. That strict dose of cynicism, proved that the award show had finally grown up. (See: Will and Grace’s win for best comedy.) His performance was a far cry from David Hyde Pierce and Jenna Elfman’s tiresome work last year.

With this incessant reference in the media about the new voting system, it was clear the populist system accompanied the Academy’s selections as Emmy recipients. The West Wing over The Sopranos is probably the best example of that. Had the old system of selection been that of smaller peer panels, I’m sure The Sopranos would have won. Not to diminish The West Wing, which was nothing short of deserving, Aaron Sorkin’s (Wing’s creator) admission that The Sopranos is one of the greatest achievements in television, is aptly correct. Remembering the erroneous omissions of Homicide: Life on the Street, Brooklyn South, and this year NYPD Blue and Oz, the David Chase mob-hit, can take solace that at least it was nominated.

Had the old system been in place, Michael J. Fox would not have won his Emmy for his lead work on Spin City, nor would have Hank Azaria for his supporting turn in the Oprah-made, Tuesdays with Morrie. (As an aside, it’s noteworthy that in his acceptance speech he made no reference to his now-separated wife, Helen Hunt.) I also doubt Jack Lemmon winning for the same movie. Although Jack was sensational, Brian Dennehy would have been a lock for his heartbreaking turn in Death of A Salesman.

The Emmy’s began honouring popular choices, because they were popular, rather than the real quality George C. Scott went on to admire them for. Because of the opened-up system, more voters - thus more jockeying for votes for a particular choice - more well-known fare won. For example: even though Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally of Will and Grace are superb performers, I seriously doubt them winning their Emmy’s had old Emmy had her way. David Hyde Pierce (Frasier) and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond,) would be clutching Emmy’s as I type.

Other thoughts: As I said in last Friday’s column, Patricia Heaton’s win for Everybody Loves Raymond will follow the dutiful legacy left by another dynamic comedy duo - Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt of Mad About You fame - which saw Ms. Hunt win 4 Emmy’s while her co-star went Emmyless after 7 nods.

The West Wing’s win over The Sopranos may have been apropos, but if this system is in place for the next couple of years, then I’m afraid The Sopranos may not win a Best Drama Emmy.

Overall impressions of the Emmycast were favourable. The winners were all well-deserved and only time will tell next year - history it is carfully assumed.

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