Memories From The Golden Year

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Cool.

That's how the cast and producers of NBC's "Frasier" characterized making Emmy history Sunday night by winning a fifth consecutive award as television's best comedy series, the most ever won by any sitcom or drama series.

"It feels pretty cool, isn't that right, everyone?" "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer said to the mass of actors, writers and producers who crowded around him backstage following the four-hour ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium that honored the best in nighttime television during the 1997-98 season. They all nodded in gleeful agreement.

The historic win came on a night when Helen Hunt became the only actress to win an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year (for "Mad About You" and "As Good as It Gets"), and a low-profile series about a struggling law firm, ABC's "The Practice," beat out seasoned and more popular veterans such as "ER," "NYPD Blue" and last year's winner, "Law & Order."

Grammer, who also collected his third Emmy as best actor in a comedy, attributed "Frasier's" record streak to an "extraordinary group of writers and people" and "a great collaborative spirit" on the show, which is approaching a new phase Sept. 24 as it enters the hallowed Thursday night time period vacated by "Seinfeld."

"We've stuck together for a while; we're always encouraging of each other," Grammer said. "We love each other a great deal."

The actor said he had mixed feelings before Sunday about whether the comedy could achieve the milestone. But a little ball told him it was in the bag.

"I have one of those eight balls" that tell the future, Grammer said. He shook and consulted the ball five years ago on the first nomination of "Frasier," and the ball responded, "Yes, without a doubt."

This time around, he shook the ball again.

"Yes, without a doubt," came the response.

Much less certain of winning was David Hyde Pierce, who plays Frasier's sophisticated but silly brother, Niles. He said he was stunned to be awarded his second Emmy as best supporting actor in a comedy series, particularly since one of the other nominees in the category was the late comedian Phil Hartman.

"I mean, with Phil and the guys from 'Larry Sanders' and Jason Alexander, I'm literally in shock," said Pierce, saying that hearing his name announced "was like a train wreck."

He added that the loss of Hartman "is so hard to calculate, but fortunately he did so much work in his life that we'll be able to watch him for years."

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Helen Hunt, star of NBC's "Mad About You," stood before the press with yet another statuette, this one her third Emmy as best actress in a comedy series. The Emmy comes on the heels of her best actress Oscar this year for "As Good as It Gets."

"I'm so proud of the work I did in that movie and so proud of the work I did on this series," she said. "This year has been a dream year for me."

Asked if this would be the last season for "Mad About You," Hunt said: "We're trying to concentrate on doing really funny shows that we can be proud of, so [the show ending] is something we'll address later this season."

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Shortly after winning his Emmy for portraying former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Gary Sinise learned Wallace had died late Sunday at age 79.

"It's a strange feeling," said Sinise, who won as outstanding actor in a movie or miniseries for TNT's "George Wallace."

"I really believe George Wallace had a spiritual redemption," Sinise went on to say about playing a figure for whom his feelings were ambivalent. Sinise said he believed Wallace proved that he was truly sorry for his segregationist politics when he went into Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta and asked for forgiveness.

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Dylan McDermott, the star of ABC's "The Practice," said the Emmy for outstanding drama series has brought the legal series "full circle. Either we're at the end or at the beginning, but it's a great, great feeling," he told reporters.

"We're the little engine that could," said the drama's co-executive producer, Jeffrey Kramer.

After a rough start with ABC, which scheduled the series on Saturday nights last season, producers are hoping that the Emmy will give "The Practice" an added boost in its new time period of Sundays at 10 p.m.

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The third time was the charm for Lisa Kudrow, winner for best supporting actress in a comedy series for NBC's "Friends." But she said it felt strange to be the only performer in an ensemble show to be nominated, much less to win.

"It's actually kind of strange to be at an event about the show and we're not all here," she said of her five co-stars. "They do work [that's] just as good as mine."

Kudrow was also surprised at winning against some sentimental favorites in her Emmy category. "I thought Julia Louis-Dreyfus--you know, it's her last year [on "Seinfeld"]. Same with ["Cybill's"] Christine Baranski."

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Garry Shandling said he was thrilled that his HBO series, "The Larry Sanders Show," finally got its Emmy due: "I thought we weren't going to win anything."

Shandling shared a comedy-writing award for the series with Peter Tolan, and Todd Holland won as best director of a comedy series.

Shandling also quipped: "I'm a single guy, but now with this award, I'm going to be out there, and it will be as powerful as the presidency."

The award did not, however, give Shandling second thoughts about whether it was the right time to end the series, which concluded last spring.

"I'm so proud of the last episode, which wrapped up all the sentiments," he said. "I'll miss all the people, but I'm comfortable that we made the right decision."

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For his performance as host of the "70th Annual Academy Awards" telecast, Billy Crystal took home the Emmy for outstanding performance in a variety or music program. But just as meaningful as the award, Crystal said, was the phone call he got the morning after the March 23 telecast. It was from Johnny Carson, who told Crystal what a wonderful job he'd done.

"For a comedian to get a call from him meant everything," Crystal said.

Crystal has hosted the Oscars six times now, and this was the second time he's won an award for his performance, which traditionally includes Crystal's song-parody salute to the best picture nominees at the outset of the show. While stopping short of thanking "Titanic" for giving him such great comedic fodder this year, Crystal did acknowledge that the runaway popularity of the film made writing this year's material easier.

"We had a great show this year," he said. "We really worked hard to be spontaneous."

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Winning best supporting actress in a drama series for her role as the overweight attorney Ellenor Frutt in "The Practice" was a dream come true for Camryn Manheim, who has found herself battling conventional images of beauty for most of her career.

"HELLO, PRESS!" Manheim bellowed as she entered the backstage pressroom. "I am so happy to see you."

She said it has been a struggle, given the image of beauty in Hollywood for her to maintain an acting career. "But I have such an 'I'll-show-you' attitude, and that's carried me up here," Manheim said.

She added that she feels she "won the lottery" by being in "The Practice," which she said exposes "the underbelly of law."

When asked what her opinion of "sexy" is, she named several qualities, including confidence and joie de vivre. "And boy, do I feel sexy right now!" she declared.

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By winning the Emmy for the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," producer Tom Hanks and company had something of the last word in a category that turned controversial this year.

When the Emmy nominations came out, the broadcast networks argued that the 12-part epic on space exploration didn't conform to a traditional miniseries format and thus shouldn't have been eligible in the category. HBO argued that the networks were unhappy that the pay channel was willing to spend more money on its productions than they are.

"It was really more of a volley against HBO than [against] us," Hanks said. "It was an argument of semantics and everyone was right. . . . There's no question ["From the Earth to the Moon"] is a miniseries, but there's no question this is a high-stakes financial game."

In the end, Hanks exulted in achieving his goal: doing "12 bodacious hours" depicting the race to space.

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Gordon Clapp, who won for best supporting actor in a drama for his portrayal of the clumsy detective Greg Medavoy on "NYPD Blue," said the name that was running through his mind when the award was announced was fellow nominee Steven Hill of "Law & Order."

"Steven Hill is a legend," he said. "Everyone else's name was running through my head but mine."

He credited executive producers David Milch and Steven Bochco with painting his character "into wonderful corners and [leaving] enough bread crumbs for me to get out of the forest."

Clapp has not yet met new cast member Rick Schroder. "But I've heard great things about him from [fellow cast member] Dennis Franz." Schroder will be taking over for Jimmy Smits, who is leaving after the first few episodes this fall. "We're going to miss Jimmy and his wisdom," Clapp said.

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David Milch, executive producer of "NYPD Blue," said he was gratified to win an award for writing an episode about the murder of a small boy and his parents' emotional trauma.

Milch said the episode was originally supposed to be a single hour, but then became a two-parter, with the second installment coming in at 90 minutes.

"It's a perfect example of what this show can do," Milch said. "Everyone was willing to adapt"--particularly ABC, which allowed the extra time.

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John Frankenheimer's day Sunday began at 5:30 a.m., Venice, Italy, time, where he boarded a plane for Los Angeles after the screening of his new film, "Ronin," at the Venice Film Festival.

The day ended with the director winning his fourth Emmy for directing the TNT movie "George Wallace" about the former governor of Alabama.

"It's been a hell of a day, I'll tell you," said Frankenheimer, who was first nominated for an Emmy in 1955, when he was 25. All of his Emmys have come for films based on historical people or events, including 1994's "Against the Wall," about the Attica prison revolt.

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Kario Salem has never heard personally from Don King, the mercurial boxing promoter portrayed in the HBO movie he wrote, "Don King: Only in America." But affirmation came for Salem in the form of an Emmy for best writing for a miniseries or a TV movie.

"There are very few people on the planet who are not more than two things," Salem said in response to a question about how he juggled King's history as a convicted felon with his fame as a boxing promoter. "He's just flat-out interesting. . . . He's a writer's dream."

Salem was asked if he thought it was significant that as a white writer he had been chosen to write about a black man. "Let's hope in five years you won't have to ask that question," he said.

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