By Christopher Gray
SEPTEMBER 8, 1997: Tough week for the fourth estate. Usually the worst thing we get charged with is assassination of character, not homicide. And a princess, no less. Yes, the chauffeur's blood-alcohol tests are still being checked, but the seeds are already planted: The same media machine that made Princess Diana an icon hounded her quite literally to death. Margaret -- away from her desk again this week -- is a much more astute, ardent Di-watcher than yours truly; I know she wants to say her piece, so I'll leave it alone. But this one's gonna take a long time to heal. The 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are Sunday, Sept. 14 at 7pm on KEYE-42/Cable 5, hosted by new CBS centerpiece Bryant Gumbel. Somehow it seems right to remind ourselves that television isn't always as craven and opportunistic as we've seen lately. That said, these are my completely biased opinions on selected categories, starting, appropriately, with the guests. Now you know why senior editors don't go on vacation more often.
Guest Actor, Comedy: David Duchovny (as himself, strangely attracted to Garry Shandling on The Larry Sanders Show) deserves it for an absolutely brilliant turn, but it'll probably go to either Sid Caesar or Mel Brooks as Paul's wacky relatives on Mad About You. Don't count out Jerry Stiller as Seinfeld's manic Frank Costanza, either.
Guest Actress, Comedy: This one's all about Ellen, but the question is whether it'll be Ms. DeGeneres as herself (again, strangely attracted to Shandling on a brilliant Sanders) or Laura Dern as the woman for whom Ellen made TV history. If the Ellen rock is too hot for Academy voters, Carol Burnett as Helen Hunt's psycho Mad About You mom could slide in the back door.
Writing, Comedy: Larry rules. "Everybody Loves Larry," a Friars' Club-style Sanders roast where Carl Reiner, Jon Stewart, Norm Crosby, Bill Maher, Dana Carvey, and especially unknown Kip Idatta ("Last week, Larry and me ... put salt on our asses and went down to that petting zoo.") continually mocked Shandling's sexuality, was the funniest half-hour on TV this year. But will it beat Ellen's hype-fueled coming-out event? Probably not.
Writing, Drama: Two of ER's best third-season episodes ("Faith," "Whose Appy Now?") butt heads with two primo NYPD Blue fourth-year efforts ("Taillight's Last Gleaming," "Where's Swaldo?"), so the winner is The X-Files' "Memento Mori," a heartwrencher wherein Scully discovers a most unwelcome cranial visitor.
Writing, Variety or Music: How to choose between Conan O'Brien and Chris Rock? Faced with such edgy material, won't the Academy opt for something more staid, like... Dennis Miller or Bill Maher?
Supporting Actor, Comedy: George and Kramer won't get it, despite fine years from both Jason Alexander and Michael Richards. Sanders' Rip Torn won in '96; costar Jeffery Tambor deserves to as Shandling's fatuous stooge Hank Kingsley. There's a little problem, though -- the Microsoft of supporting comedic actors, David Hyde Pierce. Niles it is.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: As someone who wants to marry Jeaneane Garofalo someday, I wish I could pick her, but she was only in like maybe two Larry Sanders this year. This is probably 3rd Rock's Kristen Johnston's year, since both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Christine Baranski won recently and Friends' Lisa Kudrow is great, but too "Oh my God!" for the Academy. But hey Jeaneane, like Chris Rock says, ya never know.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Noah Wylie is my favorite TV actor bar none, and his bumbling, good-hearted Dr. John Carter my absolute favorite character, mostly due to the amazing similarities between newspapers and hospitals. I'm still going with Eriq LaSalle as Carter's ER mentor Dr. Benton, because brand-new-dad Benton had a major breakthrough this year, while Carter's is still on the horizon.
Supporting Actress, Drama: Neither NYPD's Kim Delaney -- despite a gritty year -- nor Touched by an Angel's Della Reese approaches ER's terrific Thursday trio. Gloria Reuben as valiantly HIV-positive PA Jeanie Boulet is most deserving, but a win for either Laura Innes (enigmatic attending Dr. Kerry Weaver) or CCH Pounder (firm, compassionate senior surgeon Dr. Angela Hicks) would be fine.
Actor, Comedy: What's the deal with Jerry Seinfeld? Why can't he win one of these statue things? Garry Shandling and Kelsey Grammer, that's why.
Actress, Comedy: God, I hope Fran Drescher wins, both because of the way she commands The Nanny and because her speech could be better than Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s. Helen Hunt won last year, Cybill Shepherd's supporting cast props her up too much, and Ellen just isn't that good a show, or an actress.
Actor, Drama: He still hasn't found what he's looking for, but it was a good year for Fox Mulder anyway. David Duchovny put the X-rated G-man through some of his finest paces of the sci-fi favorite's four-year run. Nothing Anthony Edwards did -- even getting beat up in the bathroom -- came close to Wylie or LaSalle, or for that matter "Last Call," the one ER in which George Clooney truly took over. It'll be an NYPD cop again, but hopefully Jimmy Smits this time.
Actress, Drama: The only way Roma Downey will beat out Gillian Anderson is if her angel comes down from heaven and cures Agent Scully's cancer. Sherry Stringfield broke too many hearts by leaving ER in November, but Julianna Margulies shone as Nurse Carol Hathaway, the hospital crew's spiritual center.
Variety or Music Series: Since their subject matter is virtually the same, it could be anything but Tracey Takes On: The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Late Show With David Letterman, Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, or Dennis Miller Live. Letterman's still a pill; so are Maher and Miller. Stand up for Jay.
Comedy Series: As long as it's on network TV and keeps making Jung and Debussy jokes, Frasier's got this category sewn up. HBO's 90 nominations scared the bejesus out of the free networks, so no way Larry Sanders gets what's so richly due. Seinfeld is still too mean and 3rd Rock too slapstick; Mad About You might pull off an upset but won't.
Drama Series: None of the nominees had what sportscasters call a "career season," and TV's two across-the-board best dramas, ER and NYPD Blue, won the last two years. It comes down to bookie math: a repeat, a long shot (Law & Order), or the money shot (The X-Files). Bet on the phenom; Chicago Hope is a no-show.
President's Award: This award honors the most socially significant programming of the past season, so in theory, it should go to A&E's Biography, HBO's In the Gloaming or If These Walls Could Talk, even ER. But given the amount of rehabilitation TV's image needs right now, how could it be anything but Touched by an Angel?
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