Emmy awards mix predictability with surprise

The 56th Annual Emmy Awards came and went, leaving a lasting memory of the same nominees, the same winners and Elaine Stritch’s brassy comment while accepting her award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety, Musical or Comedy Show, “Look at the company I’m in. And I’m so glad none of them won.”

The Emmys, broadcast live on Sept. 19 on ABC, were hosted by Gary Shandling, star of the late “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Despite comedic disappointments from Shandling, probably one of the funniest jokes of the evening was the political ad from “The Daily Show” about George Washington, brought on by the debates over George Bush’s and John Kerry’s Vietnam War records. In this parody, actors dressed in 1700s attire negated everything we know to be true about our first president. As one “soldier” pointed out while looking at a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware River, “Look at him standing up in the boat. Who stands up in a boat? That’s just bad boatmanship.”

Normally, viewers can predict the winners of the Emmys with their eyes closed – “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing” among others with one miniseries ruling its categories. This pattern continued in 2004 except for the “The West Wing.” Although the political drama did win one award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for Allison Janney, the Emmys pretty much proceeded like clockwork. “The Sopranos,” with 20 nominations, took home four awards, including Outstanding Drama Series, an award which, surprisingly, despit the show’s 89 nominations over the past six years, it has never won before.

“Angels in America” won most of the major miniseries awards, including Outstanding Actor, Al Pacino and Outstanding Actress, Meryl Streep.

The big surprises of the night were from several of the “underdog” shows, including “Arrested Development” and “Deadwood,” which took home five and two awards, respectively. “Arrested Development” even snagged the coveted Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, won last year by “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Other significant awards included Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series going to Kelsey Grammar for “Frasier,” signifying the final time he can be nominated in this category due to the show’s ending this past May.

Also winning for a departed show was Sarah Jessica Parker, who received the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for “Sex and the City.”

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” won two awards, including Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy show.

Probably the most surprising and sincere moment came during the presentation of the Outstanding Reality Competition Show award, which went to “The Amazing Race.” Unbeknownst to those in attendance and those watching at home, two “regular” people were blindfolded, fitted with headphones and taken to the Emmys where they would present the award. Their expressions were priceless and, despite the huge and very real surprise, they managed to regain some composure and present the award with Shandling.

And, while the Emmys were enjoyable with their usual mix of too-long speeches and political jokes, they were also disappointing and repetitive because of the fact that one show can be nominated more than once in a category. For example, was there really a need for “The Sopranos” to be nominated four times in the category for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series? And, by the same token, why was “Angels in America” nominated four times for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie?

I understand that some shows are simply that good and therefore may deserve the multiple nominations, but this forces other outstanding shows not to be recognized. “Deadwood” didn’t even have a chance to win the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Emmy, for example.

Despite this flaw, the 56th Annual Emmy Awards were a success and a great night to celebrate the past year of television, or at least the few shows considered to be the best.