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Emmys on a ‘Wing’ and a Prayer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After two postponements following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the 53rd annual prime-time Emmy Awards finally went on amid heightened security Sunday, as NBC’s flag-waving White House series “The West Wing” dominated with eight awards, including honors as outstanding drama for the second consecutive year.

“I just want to say how proud I am to be on a show that celebrates the process that makes this country great,” cast member Allison Janney said in her acceptance speech for supporting actress in a drama.

The television industry had undergone much hand-wringing about the proper tone for this year’s Emmys, with some advocating the ceremony be canceled entirely after a second postponement Oct. 7--hours before the telecast was to begin--when U.S. and British forces launched military strikes against Afghanistan.

Still, financial considerations for CBS, as the host network, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which presents the awards, dictated that the show go on, along with a stated desire to demonstrate a return to normality. Organizers ultimately decided on a scaled-back ceremony at the Shubert Theatre in Century City, a venue roughly a third the size of the originally planned Shrine Auditorium. Although organizers had worried about having to turn people away, there were, in fact, empty seats in the balcony.

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During the show, Academy Chairman Bryce Zabel emphasized the importance of the Emmys continuing as a sign of America getting back to business as usual.

“Like baseball and Broadway, we are an American tradition,” he said.

If the ceremonies themselves went off largely without a hitch, security checks were methodical and slow-going for the two-hour line of automobiles that snaked through Century City. At least four police officers or private security guards looked in each car at various checkpoints, including a sweep of the trunk and a final mirror sweep underneath.

Evidence of attendees’ frustration could be seen along Constellation Boulevard, where several motorists were allowed to cut in line in front of hundreds of others who had waited for more than an hour. Some drivers got out of their cars to yell at traffic control personnel, who simply shrugged.

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Police and fire officials set up a command post for the event at nearby 20th Century Fox studio. More than 50 firefighters were standing by from various companies across the city, according to Capt. Tim Larson, a 27-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department. “Just about every possible scenario you can imagine, we’ve talked about,” Larson said before the show.

Despite various tributes and taped pieces linked to the terrorist attacks--including a memorial to “Frasier” co-creator David Angell, a passenger aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center--the passage of time allowed the producers to proceed with a relatively traditional ceremony.

After an introduction by former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, who suggested that “entertainment can help us heal,” host Ellen DeGeneres opened with an irreverent monologue lampooning recent events, including the previous Emmy postponements.

DeGeneres joked that the Taliban could not take away Hollywood’s creativity, saying “only network executives can do that.”

If there was further evidence of the effect of September’s attack, it was most notable in the number of honorees who were not in attendance.

Ten of 27 winners were not there to receive their awards, including James Gandolfini, the producers of CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman"--named best variety, music or comedy series for the fourth straight year--and the writing staff of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Both programs are based in New York.

The glut of no-shows prompted comedian Steve Martin to finally leap from his seat--after losing his own category--and take the stage to humorously grab one of the unclaimed statuettes from presenter Martin Sheen.

While elements of competition were downplayed within the ceremony, NBC and HBO tied with 16 Emmys each, including results in more than 50 categories from an earlier ceremony primarily devoted to technical categories, such as sound and costume design.

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Fox, meanwhile, totaled 15 awards--the most in the network’s 15-year history, including writing and directing honors for its comedy “Malcolm in the Middle.”

The night’s biggest breakthrough may have belonged to pay channel Home Box Office, as its risque comedy, “Sex and the City,” became the first cable series ever to win the best comedy or dramatic series prize--the show’s lone award of the night.

Having established a record for any series by amassing nine Emmys in its first season of eligibility, “The West Wing’s” eight wins again somewhat overshadowed HBO’s Mafia drama, “The Sopranos.”

Although “The Sopranos” garnered the most nominations, the HBO series totaled half as many awards, though its tally Sunday included the award for writing and second Emmys for stars Edie Falco and Gandolfini--in what many viewed as upsets of Sheen, who plays “The West Wing’s” fictional President Bartlet, and “Sopranos” co-star Lorraine Bracco.

In addition to best series, “West Wing” collected awards Sunday for supporting actors Janney and Bradley Whitford as well as director Thomas Schlamme.

The show received four awards--for editing, cinematography, casting and sound mixing--during the previous ceremonies in early September.

Eric McCormack won his first Emmy for playing the gay title character in NBC’s situation comedy “Will & Grace,” while Patricia Heaton took home a second consecutive Emmy for her role as the set-upon wife on CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

A tearful Heaton thanked those in the armed forces and their families and dedicated her performance this year to them.

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HBO was again bestowed numerous awards in the made-for-TV movie categories.

An adaptation of the stage play “Wit” was anointed best movie, meaning the pay service has now accepted the top prize in that category eight of the last nine years, and Kenneth Branagh earned his first Emmy for the HBO movie “Conspiracy.”

ABC did make some inroads, however, as Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard both won awards for playing Judy Garland, at different ages, in the ABC miniseries “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” while the network’s Holocaust-themed “Anne Frank” was chosen as best miniseries.

Other supporting honors went to Doris Roberts as the overbearing mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and Peter MacNicol, a first-time winner for Fox’s “Ally McBeal.”

Barbra Streisand also earned her fourth career Emmy for the Fox special “Barbra Streisand: Timeless,” the recipient of three technical awards as well.

The singer didn’t accept her award but did appear later to sing live, closing the broadcast.

Although the presentation was delayed, final voting took place in August.

The awards cover programs broadcast from June 1, 2000, to May 31, 2001.

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Times staff writers Dana Calvo and Greg Braxton contributed to this story.

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