Emmys spread the love

IF the world were run by Emmy voters. . . a lot of gamblers would lose the shirts off their backs.

Sunday night's 59th Prime Time Emmy Awards saw upsets galore in some of the biggest categories. Sure, HBO's "The Sopranos," as expected, pulled out its second Emmy for best drama even after that anticlimactic, fade-to-black series finale (memo to creator David Chase, who onstage at the Shrine Auditorium seemed unsure how long his mob drama was actually on the air: six seasons).

But elsewhere? Whoa. Ricky Gervais, a no-show, won for lead actor in his bittersweet HBO show-biz comedy, "Extras"? That was hardly anticipated, not when rivals included Steve Carell of "The Office" and Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock." Most observers expected "Entourage" or "Ugly Betty" to win best comedy series, but instead it was "30 Rock." And as if to help balance everything, "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera won for best actress in a comedy.

That's how it went throughout the night. All told, out of 29 categories awarded Sunday, the TV academy roamed widely enough to love-bomb 20 programs. Yes, even "Boston Legal," a drama that few would describe as on its creative ascendancy -- star James Spader took home a trophy for his performance delivering a big upset over "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini. "I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob," Spader told viewers.

Dominance? That's so 2004. In the new math of the TV academy, everyone's a winner!

This is the message from this year's Emmys, as sure a reflection of the TV industry as anything else you are likely to find. With original programming sprouting everywhere (in the TV world of 2007, meerkats and tattoo artists can become celebs on equal footing) and ratings declining across the board (except for "American Idol," which -- surprise! -- lost again to "The Amazing Race" in the reality-competition category), academy voters did their darndest to hedge bets all over the place.

The only folks who engaged in more derrière-covering than Emmy voters Sunday were the Fox censors, who worked overtime bleeping Sally Field, Ray Romano and others.

It was not that long ago -- well, 2004 to be precise -- that HBO set a network record for Emmy nominations, with 124. It was the culmination of years of premium-cable dominance that filled the broadcasters -- mostly off-the-record, naturally -- with envy and scorn.

That era now seems as remote as the Old West in AMC's "Broken Trail." Or the Old West in HBO's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." Yes, the Emmys found a way to allow producers of both western programs to trek to the stage Sunday.

HBO still led the way, but by an uncomfortably close margin. Once totals from last weekend's creative arts categories are included, the pay-cable channel walked off with 21 awards, trailed by NBC with 19.

As it happened, however, the academy's ecumenical approach wasn't the only television trend on display Sunday. Reflecting network TV's steady descent down the slippery slope of product placement, the Emmys also allowed -- nay, encouraged -- self-promotion to previously unimagined and self-parodistic levels.

"Heroes" costar Masi Oka turned up using a notebook computer prominently featuring the Apple logo -- and then introduced a founder of MySpace, that funky, wholly owned subsidiary of Fox parent News Corp.

In a marketing double-header, "Don't Forget the Lyrics" host Wayne Brady did a skit that somehow shilled not just for the Fox game show but also for rapper Kanye West's new disc.

By the time Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, stars of Fox's new sitcom "Back to You," arrived to pass out the award for best comedy, viewers could be forgiven for scarcely noticing the corporate tie-in. After all, it was hardly the evening's most egregious placement.

An environment where tons of shows fly by in a blur of product placement? Well, we did say the Emmys reflected the medium, didn't we?

The Channel Island column runs every Monday in Calendar. Contact Scott Collins at scott.collins@latimes.com.

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