And Now the Shmemmys, for They Are Worthy

You recall the prime-time Emmys.

That annual television feelgood of cosmic hair, butt-kissing and designer name-dropping? That pantheon of cosmetic tweaking, frozen smiles and scripted ad-libs? That Sunday gridlock of stretch limos from Malibu to points east?

Yup, the very same.

The deadline for handing in 2000-2001 Emmy ballots has passed, ending for now those paid "For Your Consideration" pleas that had been swelling trade publications for weeks as part of massive PR campaigns touting would-be nominees.

Although mostly legit, this season's ad hype was achieved at times by rolling out blurbs with misleading attribution. Or deceptively using them out of context, as in an ad for Richard Schiff of NBC's "The West Wing" deploying the following quote from someone writing in this paper: "I find myself rushing to turn up the sound while he is speaking."

Actually, writer Mary McNamara was faulting Schiff here, for talking too softly, after praising him as communications director Toby Ziegler. Oh, well. If shading truth were a crime, much of the industry would be in the pokey.

Nominations are scheduled to be announced in the wee hours of July 12, with the Emmy telecast airing Sept. 15. Here's hoping you don't find yourself rushing to turn down the sound.

"The West Wing" and HBO's "The Sopranos" are locks for nominations, of course. As are their stars and a slew of other actors and programs, a few being ABC's "The Practice," "Anne Frank" and "Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows"; NBC's "Frasier" and "Will & Grace"; Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle"; CBS' "Everyone Loves Raymond"; and HBO's "Sex and the City" and "Wit."

"For Your Consideration," though, are the following meritorious programs and actors much less likely to have made the Emmy cut. Good news, though. They are receiving in this hallowed space, instead, award nominations destined to be more cherished than those scheduled to be trumpeted in 10 days by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Behold . . .

The Shmemmys.

All right, no statuettes. It's the thought that counts.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Sharing the Secret," the quintessential small movie with a large wallop. This mostly unheralded CBS work was about a shrink (Mare Winningham) who learned--belatedly for someone with her skills and training--that her own teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) was bulimic. The topic had been done again and again, yet no cheap sentiment this time, no easy answers, no lectures, no unrealistic knotting of loose ends, just an honest, beautifully acted, written (by Lauren Currier) and directed (by Katt Shea) depiction of a terribly serious problem. Of the cast, Lohman shone especially bright.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Conspiracy," HBO's quietly horrific reprise of the Jan. 20, 1942, Wannsee conference at which Hitler's "final solution" for Jews was codified by Reinhard Heydrich--superbly played with smarmy wickedness by Kenneth Branagh--and his fellow arch criminals as matter-of-factly as businessmen setting sales quotas. A few critics found it too talky. They must not have heard the words.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Any Day Now," easily the best of Lifetime. It's sensitive, intelligent and TV's most daring drama series in terms of its volatile racial content, including this season's double episode devoted to dissecting the "N-word." "Any Day Now" also has going for it nomination-deserving co-stars in Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Cora Unashamed," the opening period drama in an occasional series that PBS envisions as a U.S. alternative to its own "Masterpiece Theatre." Based on a Langston Hughes short story, it drew measured yet seething power from Regina Taylor as an African American housemaid who transferred her love from her own dead child to the daughter of her white employer, beautifully played by Cherry Jones.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Second Sight," another gift from the Brits, this time via "Mystery" on PBS. As arresting as any limited series anywhere, "Second Sight" this season returned the again-splendid Clive Owen as a hotshot police detective trying to hide his diminished eyesight from his bosses and other fellow cops.

* Shmemmy nomination to "1900 House," a smart, charmingly droll nonfiction series on PBS that had a British couple and their four kids spending three months immersed in history as a family at the turn of that earlier century. No phones, computers, movies or TV for these brave souls, nor any of the other modern amenities we take for granted. Watching them painfully cope was great fun and educational, a rare TV combination.

* Shmemmy nomination to "David Copperfield," not the season's U.S. version of this Charles Dickens classic (with Michael Richards as a Krameresque Micawber), but a sumptuous, finely mounted BBC rendering that aired on PBS. Versatile Bob Hoskins was Micawber, and Trevor Eve and ever-amazing Zoe Wanamaker delivered shudders as those terrifying Murdstones.

* Shmemmy nomination to "Jesus Christ Superstar." Herod in a white dinner jacket backed by sexy chorus girls? Jesus and his boys looking like leather bar regulars one moment, Jets and Sharks the next? That was Gale Edwards' outrageously modernized, largely underpraised new rendering of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera that ran on PBS. It was dazzling and pulsating, a tailored-for-TV twist on a recent stage revival, with golden Glenn Carter a pleasing JC and swaggering Jerome Pradon tearing up Jerusalem as black-jacketed Judas.

* Shmemmy nominations to Poppy Montgomery and Patricia Richardson. Although "Blonde" never quite rose to its subject on CBS, Montgomery was a bombshell stunner as both Norma Jeane and her high-wattage, Hollywood-erected alter ego, Marilyn Monroe, and Richardson (best known as Tim Allen's wife in ABC's "Home Improvement") the perfect mad narcissist as her destructive mother.

* Shmemmy nomination to Jeffrey Wright, and who would have thought it? Probably no role is harder for an actor than measuring up to a recent gleaming icon, in this case Martin Luther King Jr. How can soaring public charisma be replicated? Wright got there in HBO's "Boycott," not by playing big, but in depicting the great civil rights leader as life-sized, while capturing his distinctive rhythms and crescendoing in all the right spots.

* Shmemmy nomination to Alan Arkin as the oft-embattled liberal judge of A&E;'s promising new series "100 Centre Street."

* Shmemmy nomination to "The Chris Isaak Show," a goofy-funny Showtime comedy with the country rocker and his sidemen perfectly cast as . . . themselves.

* Shmemmy nominations to real-life siblings Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, so achingly real as combative sisters in "The Old Settler," the opening work in the "PBS Hollywood Presents" series of occasional dramas originated by KCET-TV in Los Angeles.

* Shmemmy nominations to Audra McDonald and Eileen Atkins, in case Emmy judges overlooked how wonderful they were behind transcendent Emma Thompson in "Wit."

* Shmemmy nominations to Michael Imperioli and Jamie Lynn Sigler of "The Sopranos," in case the Emmy crowd missed how amazingly on point they, too, have been as Tony's brutal nephew, Christopher, and pampered daughter, Meadow, respectively.

* Shmemmy nominations to Brad Garrett and Louise Lasser of Showtime's "Club Land," he for being a vile stand-up comic you wanted to trapdoor into a vat of manure, she for being the humorous mother of another comic, who happened to be a schnook.

Speaking of schnooks, roll credits. I'm outta here.


Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted at

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