"Frasier" received an unprecedented fifth consecutive Emmy for best comedy series at the 50th annual Nighttime Emmy Awards on Sunday, adding to the program's critical cache as it surpassed such acclaimed four-time winners as "All in the Family," "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Cheers."
The historic performance by "Frasier" was the defining moment in the year when NBC chose to expand the televised ceremony from three to four hours to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the awards and celebrate the medium of television.
The telecast used the extra time to recognize past TV icons, reuniting cast members from "Roots" and "Hill Street Blues," and paying tribute to the likes of Milton Berle, Bob Hope and Sid Caesar, who appeared to a standing ovation during the ceremony.
The golden anniversary of the Emmys saw a relative newcomer capture the dramatic honors, as ABC's 2-year-old legal show "The Practice"--the first new nominee in that category since 1995--upset a field that included past winners "ER," "NYPD Blue" and "Law & Order."
In addition to celebrating the "Frasier" streak, NBC extended its own run as the most honored network overall to four years. Ironically, "Frasier" was spun off from "Cheers" in 1993, and this season the comedy will try to bring that journey full circle by moving into the 9 p.m. Thursday slot "Cheers" occupied for a decade, helping establish the network's "Must-See TV" franchise.
Also winning for "Frasier" were star Kelsey Grammer--a four-time Emmy recipient for the role, three times in the current series and once on "Cheers"--and supporting player David Hyde Pierce. The lead actor Emmy had gone to "3rd Rock From the Sun's" John Lithgow the past two years.
Helen Hunt continued her award-punctuated year with a third straight lead-actress Emmy for NBC's "Mad About You," having already claimed an Oscar and Golden Globe this year for the film "As Good As It Gets." The other comedy award went to Lisa Kudrow of "Friends," the first member of that popular show's cast to earn such recognition, with the six stars having decided to submit themselves for consideration as supporting actors.
All four drama series actors were first-time winners, with Andre Braugher taking the lead-actor prize for NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" and Christine Lahti of "Chicago Hope" voted best actress. Supporting honors went to Camryn Manheim of "The Practice" and Gordon Clapp of "NYPD Blue."
Nominated only once before, Braugher has left "Homicide" to pursue a feature-film career. His Emmy win disrupts the reign of Dennis Franz from "NYPD Blue," who has claimed the award three times in the last four years, although that ABC police drama was honored with writing and directing Emmys for the second consecutive year.
Despite its much-ballyhooed sign-off, NBC's "Seinfeld"--the Emmy winner in 1993, before "Frasier" began its historic reign--was overlooked in the voting. Comedy writing and directing awards went to the Home Box Office comedy "The Larry Sanders Show," which ended its six-year run in May and had received only one Emmy previously despite more than 40 nominations.
HBO Leads Movie Pack
HBO also continued to dominate the made-for-TV movie categories, garnering the pay channel's sixth consecutive Emmy for best movie with "Don King: Only in America" and earning top miniseries honors for the year's most-nominated program, the Tom Hanks-produced docudrama "From the Earth to the Moon."
The broadcast networks and producer of NBC's "Merlin" had protested the inclusion of the 12-hour project--which chronicled the history of the space program--as a miniseries contender, arguing that the program didn't qualify under Emmy guidelines for that category.
Equaling the three Emmy wins for "From the Earth to the Moon" was cable network TNT's biographical miniseries "George Wallace," with awards for star Gary Sinise, supporting actress Mare Winningham and veteran director John Frankenheimer. Sinise's Emmy for his portrayal of the former Alabama governor and presidential candidate came on the night of Wallace's death.
Ellen Barkin, who starred in ABC's Oprah Winfrey-produced "Before Women Had Wings," was named best actress in a TV movie--the only major award in that area that didn't go to a cable channel.
Including additional awards handed out two weeks ago primarily covering technical areas such as editing and costume design, NBC totaled 18 Emmys. ABC--which won the most during Sunday night's festivities--finished with 16. HBO collected 14, compared to just eight for CBS.
Cable as a whole saw its share of awards decline a bit, however, after steady encroachment on the broadcast networks' turf in recent years. All told, cable channels received 26 statuettes, two fewer than the record established last year.
"The Practice" is produced by writer David E. Kelley, who has historically been a favorite of Emmy voters. His CBS series "Picket Fences" took back-to-back best-series wins in 1993 and 1994. Manheim, a first-time nominee, seemed especially overjoyed and stunned by her victory.
"This is for all the fat girls!" she shouted, holding her Emmy aloft triumphantly.
Several more popular programs--including the two most-nominated series, "ER" and "The X-Files"--went largely ignored in the Emmy voting. Each program earned a pair of awards in technical areas two weeks ago.
In similar fashion, Hunt's win for "Mad About You" shut out two high-profile new entries in that category, "Ally McBeal's" Calista Flockhart and "Dharma & Greg's" Jenna Elfman. Hunt joins George C. Scott as the only performer to earn an Oscar and Emmy in the same year, with Scott having received his for "Patton" and a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, "The Price," in 1971.
Scott an Absentee Winner
Scott--who was not in attendance--was honored with his second Emmy on Sunday, 27 years later, for a remake of the movie "12 Angry Men" that aired on the pay channel Showtime.
CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" won its first Emmy as outstanding variety, music or comedy series since premiering in 1993. HBO's "Dennis Miller Live," meanwhile, was honored a fourth time for writing in that category.
Ironically, the most honored program overall was another TV awards ceremony, with ABC receiving five statuettes for this year's Academy Awards, including Billy Crystal's second Emmy for hosting the Oscar telecast.
Despite a few oblique references by comics Chris Rock and Dennis Miller to the current scandal involving President Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the broadcast featured few of the overtly political moments that have sometimes peppered past Emmy ceremonies.
In accepting his second supporting actor award for "Frasier," Pierce also acknowledged fellow nominee Phil Hartman, who was killed earlier this year.
The event moved to the 6,000-seat Shrine Auditorium and for the first time allocated a limited number of seats to members of the public.
The awards are presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a nonprofit TV industry organization. Programs televised between June 1, 1997, and May 31, 1998, were eligible for this year.
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The Big Winners
* Series: "The Practice" ABC
* Lead actor: Andre Braugher, "Homicide: Life on the Street" NBC
* Lead actress: Christine Lahti, "Chicago Hope" CBS
* Series: "Frasier," NBC.
* Lead actor: Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier," NBC
* Lead actress: Helen Hunt, "Mad About You," NBC