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Cornering the Emmys

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore was center stage last night amid the glitter of Hollywood at the 52nd Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards as HBO's "The Corner" swept three major awards for writing, directing and best miniseries.

The landmark HBO miniseries about one Baltimore family's struggle to escape the world of drugs in a neighborhood devastated by them dominated the movie and miniseries category almost as thoroughly as NBC's "The West Wing" and "Will & Grace" dominated the categories of drama and comedy series.

"The West Wing" took home Emmys as best drama, supporting actor, supporting actress, writing and directing in a drama series. "Will & Grace" won as best comedy and supporting actress and actor in a comedy series.

Charles S. Dutton won for directing a miniseries or movie for his work in "The Corner." David Simon and David Mills won for best writing in a miniseries or movie, beating out Tom Fontana, Eric Overmyer and James Yoshimura for NBC's "Homicide: The Movie." Both "Homicide" and "The Corner" were filmed in Baltimore, and the victory by the latter should provide a nice boost to the local film industry.

Simon, who also served as executive producer with Mills, thanked the "people of West Baltimore," a reference to those who allowed him and Ed Burns into their lives to write the non-fiction book, "The Corner," on which the miniseries was based. He also thanked Baltimore, describing it as "one of the strangest, most peculiar and wonderful towns you could ever write about." In his acceptance speech, Dutton, who lives in Baltimore, reiterated his goal for the series - "putting a human face" on the people in Baltimore's drug world. Humanizing people who had been demonized by 50 years of prime-time narratives is the thing that makes "The Corner" such an important document.

The winners in drama series from "The West Wing" included: creator Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland for writing, co-executive producer Thomas Schlamme for directing, Allison Janney as best supporting actress and Robert Schiff as best supporting actor.

The Emmy for best actor in drama series went to James Gandolfini of HBO's "The Sopranos." While it is an important award, it was one of the few that went to the crime series, which came into the evening tied with "The West Wing" for most nominations. The award for best actress in a drama series went to Sela Ward of ABC's "Once and Again."

"Will & Grace," the first sitcom in network history to feature a gay character in a leading role, complemented its Emmy as best comedy series with awards for Sean Hayes as best supporting actor in a comedy series and Megan Mullally as best supporting actress in a comedy series.

"Oh, she's beautiful," creator Max Mutchnick said in accepting the Emmy for best comedy. "As a gay man, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I finally found a woman I want to sleep with."

Best actress in a comedy series went to Patricia Heaton, of ABC's "Everybody Loves Raymond." Michael J. Fox, who retired in May, won as Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series for ABC's "Spin City."

The applause in the hall as Fox took the stage seemed like one of the evening's few genuine emotional moments.

As for the telecast, executive producer Don Mischer promised more comedy and no overblown production numbers, and he was good to his word.

Well, almost, until he had Wayne Grady, of "Whose Line Is It Anyway," sing a medley parodying various aspects of "Survivor," "Friends," "Sopranos," "Frasier," and other series.

It was neither particularly funny nor energizing. Mischer should have stuck to his guns when it came to music.

Speaking of a lack of energy, host Garry Shandling surely put some viewers to sleep with his I'm-so-depressed-I-can't-stand-it schtick. But he was professionally smooth enough to keep the evening moving along at a decent pace, while retaining enough irony about the telecast so that you didn't feel like you were at a Friars' Club Roast.

Shandling's comic persona as highly neurotic and sexually challenged can play blue by the normal standards of network television. But last night, he generally kept the sexual material safely within acceptable bounds. Most of the sex jokes were about his incompetence or lack of sexual fulfillment.

Typical Shandling: "You know, I shave one leg so that when I'm in bed it feels like I'm with a woman."

But none of it was exactly scintillating. Mischer and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences don't like controversy, especially about politics. But they could have used more remarks like the one from presenter Bill Maher, of "Politically Incorrect," when he asked the audience, "Like the tux? It's a Dick Cheney model. The pockets are lined." Chris Rock also did a nice turn as a presenter, deftly making a point about the lack of diversity on network television by mockingly praising the diversity represented in the category of best supporting actress in a comedy series, which featured all white women, most of whom were young.

One of the most elevated moment in an acceptance speech came when Thomas Schlamme, who won for directing a drama series for his work on "The West Wing," said, "I just want to say ... I am the son of two immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, and to work on a show that represents such hope and optimism, makes me exceptionally proud."

Halle Berry struck a chord with the audience in her acceptance remarks after she won for best actress in a movie or miniseries for HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," which she also produced.

"I want to thank my community - the African-American community. They never let me down," Berry said.

A taped segment remembering industry members who died this year was particularly poignant as it closed on the giant image of that lived-in, beloved, duffel bag of a face belonging to Walter Matthau. It was especially fitting coming as it did right after Matthau's pal, Jack Lemmon, accepted an Emmy for his performance in ABC's made-for-TV movie, "Tuesdays With Morrie."

Among the show's flattest and most ill-advised moments involved two sketches featuring Shandling that parodied the CBS reality shows "Survivor" and "Big Brother."

They were especially ill chosen since such fare is putting many of the very people who were in Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium last night out of work, as the networks cut back on production of dramas, sitcoms, films and miniseries to air more and more nights of the cheaper reality fare.

Emmy winners

Winners in the top categories in last night's Emmy Awards.

Drama series: "The West Wing," NBC

Comedy series: "Will & Grace," NBC

Miniseries: "The Corner," HBO

Actor, comedy series: Michael J. Fox, "Spin City," ABC

Actress, comedy series: Patricia Heaton, "Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS

Actor, drama series: James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos," HBO

Actress, drama series: Sela Ward, "Once And Again," ABC

Other winners at last night's Emmy show:

Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Jack Lemmon, "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie," ABC

Actress, Miniseries or a Movie: Halle Berry, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," HBO

Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Sean Hayes, "Will & Grace," NBC

Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Richard Schiff, "The West Wing," NBC

Supporting Actor, Miniseries or a Movie: Hank Azaria, "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie," ABC

Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Megan Mullally, "Will & Grace," NBC.

Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Allison Janney, "The West Wing," NBC

Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Vanessa Redgrave, "If These Walls Could Talk 2," HBO

Directing, Miniseries, Movie or Special: Charles S. Dutton, "The Corner," HBO.

Directing, Comedy Series: Todd Holland, "Malcolm in the Middle: Pilot," Fox.

Directing, Drama Series: Thomas Schlamme, "The West Wing," NBC

Directing, Variety or Music Program: Louis J. Horvitz, "72nd Annual Academy Awards," ABC.

Performance, Varety or Music Program: Eddie Izzard, "Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill," HBO

Made for Television Movie: "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie," ABC

Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "Late Show With David Letterman," CBS

Variety, Music or Comedy Special: "Saturday Night Live: The 25th Anniversary Special," NBC

Writing, Miniseries or a Movie: David Simon, David Mills, "The Corner," HBO

Writing, Comedy Series: Linwood Boomer, "Malcolm in the Middle: Pilot," Fox.

Writing, Drama Series: Aaron Sorkin, Rick Cleveland, "The West Wing," NBC

Writing, Variety, Music or Comedy Program: Eddie Izzard, "Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill," HBO

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