20 years ago at the Emmys: Allison Janney, Sarah Jessica Parker and Meryl Streep reign

Sarah Jessica Parker holds her Emmy Award onstage in 2004.
In her 2004 Emmys acceptance speech, Sarah Jessica Parker added a special acknowledgement to New York City “passersby, who always wanted the best for me.”
(Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)
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Newcomers are certainly welcome as potential winners of Primetime Emmy lead actress awards, but at the 56th ceremony held on Sept. 19, 2004, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the award recipients (and most of their competitors) turned out to be Hollywood royalty of various stripes.

A shoutout to Gotham City

In the lead actress in a comedy category, Sarah Jessica Parker picked up her first acting Emmy for playing Carrie Bradshaw in the final season of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” having been nominated five times previously in the category (she won a 2001 Emmy as an executive producer on the series). She’d been up against several comedy legends: Jennifer Aniston (“Friends,” NBC), who won the category in 2002; Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” CBS), who won in 2000 and 2001; first-time nominee Bonnie Hunt (“Life With Bonnie,” ABC); and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle,” Fox), who earned seven nominations in the category for her role but zero Emmys.


Presented with her Emmy by Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen, Parker smooched husband Matthew Broderick (who won an Emmy in 1994) and ascended the stage. She thanked the usual suspects — including her lawyer and publicist — and added a special acknowledgment New York City “passersby, who always wanted the best for me.”

Parker’s “Sex” co-star Cynthia Nixon also won that evening for supporting actress in a comedy, her first Emmy win.

A fully inclusive win

It was hard to be too surprised when Allison Janney earned her fourth Emmy for her performance as C.J. Cregg on NBC’s “The West Wing”; she’d also won in 2000 and 2001 (as a supporting actress) and then in 2002 as lead. Her current total is seven Emmys, including two for “Mom” (CBS) in 2014 and 2015, plus a guest actress award for “Masters of Sex” (Showtime) in 2014.

Janney was up against fellow dramatic titans Edie Falco (“The Sopranos,” HBO), who had won in this category in 1999, 2001 and 2003 and went on to win it again for “Nurse Jackie” (Showtime) in 2010; Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” ABC), ultimately nominated four times for the role but never won; Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” NBC), who won the category in 2006; and Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia,” CBS) on her first nomination.

The lead actor winners of the 2004 Emmys included a four-time recipient, a first-timer and a revered actor

May 29, 2024

But Janney did something unusual in accepting her award for lead actress in a drama from presenters Victor Garber and Taye Diggs — she invited her fellow nominees onto the stage. “Mariska, I know I told you something last night, that I would give this to you, and it seems like such a silly idea in this moment,” said Janney. “But I would love it if you would come up and stand with me because we’re wearing such beautiful green dresses.” Hargitay did stand on the stage, off to the side — but none of the other nominees took Janney up on her invitation.


Self-embracing the awesome

Oscar winners abounded in the lead actress in a miniseries or movie category, but Meryl Streep seemed to have an early lock on the prize for her multiple roles in HBO’s “Angels in America.” It was her second Emmy; her first was for “Holocaust” (1978, NBC) and she’d win a third in 2017 as narrator for “Five Came Back.” Her win helped “Angels” sweep all of the miniseries acting categories (her co-stars Al Pacino, Jeffrey Wright and Mary-Louise Parker also earned Emmys). But her co-star Emma Thompson — who was nominated in the same category — ended up with no award at all. “[She] will hold a grudge for the rest of her life,” Streep quipped onstage.

In addition to competing with Thompson (who already had an Emmy from her 1998 “Ellen” guest appearance), Streep was in line with three-time Emmy winner Glenn Close (“The Lion in Winter,” Showtime); three-time Emmy winner Judy Davis (“The Reagans,” Showtime); and four-time Emmy winner Helen Mirren (“Prime Suspect VI: The Last Witness,” PBS).

But Streep surprised and delighted the audience with a playful lack of humility as she gave her acceptance speech. “There are some days when I myself think I’m overrated,” she told the audience, giving a dramatic pause. “But not today!” She added special thanks for “Angels” creator Tony Kushner, who won an Emmy that night for his script. “The bravest thing in the world is that writer who sits alone in his room and works out his grief, his rage, his imagination and his deep desire to make people laugh and he makes a work of art that then transforms the role into truth,” Streep said. “That’s all we want, you know. That’s all we need.”