Prizes and surprises: 'Sopranos,' '30 Rock' win
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"The Sopranos" predictably took home top drama series honors for its swan song season, but it was a clutch of other winners -- rookie "30 Rock" as best comedy series and surprise nods in the acting categories -- that turned the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards into a show that spread the wealth into unexpected corners Sunday.
The even playing field was reflected in the network tally where HBO, NBC and ABC were tied for the lead with six wins each.
HBO's "Sopranos" became the first drama in 30 years to win the best series Emmy for its final season and also won for writing and directing. But after three wins apiece, its stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco lost the chance to clench a fourth trophy; they were supplanted onstage by James Spader for ABC's "Boston Legal" and Sally Field for the same network's "Brothers & Sisters" as lead drama series actor and actress.
Accepting his top drama series award for "The Sopranos" -- the show's second after seven nominations in the category -- executive producer David Chase said, "Thanks to the Academy, to HBO for seven or 10 years or whatever it was of just pure support, and thanks to James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli and Aida Turturro.
"I've said it many times, and I'll say it again, but maybe the best thing about this has been working with this cast. They are great. I also have wanted to thank a lot of the really extremely talented musicians who licensed us their music like the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello. These people, we've ridden on their coattails."
Chase concluded by praising the gangster culture that his series glorified, noting, "Let's face it, if this world and this nation were run by gangsters ... maybe it is."
The comedy categories also had their share of surprises. The crowd at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles was audibly stunned when Ricky Gervais' name was read for his performance in HBO's "Extras" over favorites Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock" and Steve Carell for "The Office" as well as three-time winner Tony Shalhoub for USA Network's "Monk." Gervais, a no-show at the Shrine, previously had been nominated for his British edition of "The Office" as well as earning a statuette for exec producing NBC's "The Office" when it won for comedy series last year.
Comedy Central faux newsmen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert presented the award. "Ricky Gervais could not be here tonight," Stewart said. "Instead, we're going to give this to our friend Steve Carell!" inspiring Carell to jubilantly sprint to the stage.
Gervais' win was the first triumph in the comedy lead actor category for HBO, and the first such win for a British thesp in decades.
The victory by "30 Rock" had hardly been seen as a slam-dunk; it mirrored a similar win by another low-rated freshman comedy, Fox's "Arrested Development" in 2004.
"30 Rock" executive producer, writer and star Tina Fey accepted the outstanding comedy series honor with her jubilant cast members and fellow writers and producers standing behind her. She thanked Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, and the network's former entertainment president, Kevin Reilly, for "believing in us enough to leave us on the air. We have the best cast and crew in all of television." She concluded by thanking the "dozens and dozens of viewers" who watch the ratings-challenged comedy.
Although it was the third Emmy win for both Spader and Field, each seemed initially dazed.
Spader made his way to the stage after an awkward moment when the reading of his first name briefly made those gathered around Gandolfini start to stand up before the surname "Spader" stunned them into seated near-silence.
Spader appeared equally taken off-guard, noting in his acceptance speech: "Oh, my goodness, I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob, and they're all sitting right over there. Where the hell is Elaine Stritch when you need her?"
A flummoxed Field, who has a pair of Oscars to go with her Emmy triumphs, let go a hyperactive burst after taking hold of her prize onstage.
After a windup, her remarks climaxed with a perhaps inevitable denunciation of the war.
"And to especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait, wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm's way and from war," she said as the music cut her off.
"I'm not finished! I have to finish talking!" she shouted. "I am proud to be one of those women -- and let's face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamned wars in the first place."
Of the top honors, only the "Sopranos" victory and that of America Ferrera for lead actress in a comedy for her work on ABC's first-year hit "Ugly Betty" -- matching her Golden Globe win in January -- went according to most pundits' predictions.
The stage theoretically had been set for a "Sopranos" victory parade an hour or so into the show when episodes of the series were honored for drama series writing (to Chase) and directing (Alan Taylor). However, the bandwagon didn't extend to any of the show's players as neither the two leads nor supporting nominees Michael Imperioli, Aida Turturro and Lorraine Bracco were able to ride the show's lengthy coattails.
Accepting for his writing honor, Chase never made eye contact with the camera, seemingly confused as to where to look -- an understandable error given the configuration of a stage set whose theater-in-the-round conceit resulted in three-quarters of the live audience watching the program entirely from either the back or the side.
Spader was moved by the awkward arrangement to comment in his acceptance, "I've been to thousands and thousands of concerts in my life, and I can tell you these are the worst seats I've ever had."
Before the stunning developments that punctuated several of the highest-profile acting categories as the show wound down, things went largely as expected on a night when legendary crooner Tony Bennett nearly stole the night's thunder, earning three Emmys.
The HBO telefilm "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" -- executive produced by "Law & Order" franchise guru Dick Wolf and based on the iconic book by Dee Brown -- earned the top made-for-TV movie award, astonishingly the 13th time in 15 years the premium cabler has carried the category.
Despite the presence of "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest as the night's Emmy host and its being telecast on Fox, it didn't stop CBS' "The Amazing Race" from carting off its fifth consecutive reality-competition Emmy over "Idol," ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and the Bravo duo of "Project Runway" and "Top Chef." (Fox, in fact, came away with nary a trophy in any category.)
The five consecutive wins tied "Race" with "Frasier" as the only primetime series ever to pull off that feat -- though it was equaled a mere half-hour before by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," taking its fifth straight Emmy for outstanding variety, music or comedy series. "Daily Show," however, was denied a fifth consecutive honor for its writing by NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
Joining Field with a political message was former Vice President Al Gore, a principal in the fledgling network Current TV, which was honored with an Emmy for creative achievement in interactive television. That win drew one of the evening's lengthy ovations.
Noted Gore during his acceptance, "We are trying to open up the television medium so that viewers can help to make television and join the conversation of democracy and reclaim American democracy by talking about the choices we have to make."
Dominating the early goings-on Sunday night were a quartet of first-time winners of supporting acting trophies and one ("Entourage's" Jeremy Piven) snatching his second in as many years.
The four who broke into the Emmy ranks Sunday night were Katherine Heigl, turning her first nom into gold for her work on "Grey's Anatomy," knocking off castmates Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson; Terry O'Quinn, earning the victory on his second nom for ABC's "Lost"; Jaime Pressly, winning in her second attempt for her role on the NBC comedy "My Name Is Earl"; and Thomas Haden Church for his supporting work on AMC's Western miniseries "Broken Trail."
"Broken Trail" also earned two other statuettes: top miniseries and for its Oscar-winning veteran star Robert Duvall, his first Emmy on his fourth try. Also earning an acting statuette -- her third -- was Judy Davis as supporting actress in a movie or miniseries for the USA Network mini "The Starter Wife."
The victories for "Trail" were the first major honors ever for AMC, which in its history had won a grand total of 14 Emmys -- nearly all in technical and costume categories.
Heigl -- who during a presenting stint shortly before had become perhaps the first star to grace the Emmy stage and proceed to correct the announcer for mispronouncing her name (she had been referred to as "Hi-jell") -- noted in her acceptance speech: "My own mother told me I didn't have a shot in hell of winning tonight, so I really don't have anything prepared. But she's a really big supporter. She does love me."
In his speech, O'Quinn said, "You know, sometimes when we are rolling around in the jungle in the mud, and we're hitting each other and stabbing each other, and they're pouring in the blood and turning on the sprinklers, I wonder what it would be like to bake up a sheet of cookies on Wisteria Lane." He then quickly added, "And get one of their checks."
Also winning Sunday, for the fourth time, was Oscar winner Helen Mirren for her lead role in PBS' "Prime Suspect: The Final Act," a year after having won an Emmy for HBO's "Elizabeth I." She immediately scored a first of her own, however, by actually inviting the walk-off music to please, please interrupt her rambling remarks.
"Come on, music," Mirren said. "I'm going on and on."
Seacrest seemed right at home during his first stint presiding over the Emmys, poking fun at his lack of broad entertainment skills. He opened by welcoming everyone to "the results show" of the Emmys and welcomed everyone in the audience "who passed on hosting this year."
Seacrest also went into the audience to perform shtick playing off of his "E!" red-carpet preshow persona, joking with the cast members from "Desperate Housewives" along with William Shatner. His attempts at broad humor fell largely flat, however, as when he remarked that this was the "greenest" Emmy telecast in history -- and, in fact, to power the show, "We have the cast of 'Kid Nation' backstage on treadmills."
The ceremony was punctuated by several particularly amusing sequences, including a mock hip-hop singing competition pitting recording artist Kanye West against "The Office" Emmy nominee Rainn Wilson. A rousing performance by the cast of the Tony-winning musical "Jersey Boys" also proved popular with the audience.
And it was difficult to beat the deadpan interchange between Stewart and Colbert -- punctuated by their impromptu ebullient group hug with comedy lead actor nominee Carell, who gamely stood in the absence of actual winner Gervais.
List of winners at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards:
Drama Series: "The Sopranos," HBO.
Comedy Series: "30 Rock," NBC.
Miniseries: "Broken Trail," AMC.
Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central.
Variety, Music or Comedy Special: "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," NBC.
Made-for-TV Movie: "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," HBO.
Reality-Competition Program: "The Amazing Race," CBS.
Creative Achievement in Interactive TV: Current.
Actor, Drama Series: James Spader, "Boston Legal," ABC.
Actor, Comedy Series: Ricky Gervais, "Extras," HBO.
Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Robert Duvall, "Broken Trail," AMC.
Actress, Drama Series: Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters," ABC.
Actress, Comedy Series: America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty," ABC.
Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Helen Mirren, "Prime Suspect: The Final Act (Masterpiece Theatre)," PBS.
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Terry O'Quinn, "Lost," ABC.
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Jeremy Piven, "Entourage," HBO.
Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Thomas Haden Church, "Broken Trail," AMC.
Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy," ABC.
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Jaime Pressly, "My Name Is Earl," NBC.
Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Judy Davis, "The Starter Wife," USA.
Individual Performance, Variety or Music Program: Tony Bennett, "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," NBC.
Directing, Drama Series: "The Sopranos: Kennedy and Heidi," HBO.
Directing, Comedy Series: "Ugly Betty: Pilot," ABC.
Directing, Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: "Prime Suspect: The Final Act (Masterpiece Theatre)," PBS.
Directing, Variety, Music or Comedy Program: "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," NBC.
Writing for a Drama Series: "The Sopranos: Made in America," HBO.
Writing, Comedy Series: "The Office: Gay Witch Hunt," NBC.
Writing, Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: "Prime Suspect: The Final Act," PBS.
Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program: Late Night With Conan O'Brien," NBC.