The dark side of American life dominated the 56th annual Emmy Awards Sunday as the mobsters of The Sopranos and the people with AIDS of Angels in America walked off with top awards, making cable network HBO king. But the evening had a sentimental side as the stars of two recently departed prime-time comedy favorites--Sarah Jessica Parker of HBO's Sex and the City and Kelsey Grammer of NBC's Frasier--won the best acting awards in their categories. The evening also had its surprises, with the award for best comedy going to Arrested Development, a critical darling on the Fox network that is struggling to survive poor ratings. And the award for best actor in a drama went to film star James Spader for his portrayal of an unethical lawyer on the final season of ABC's The Practice. After four previous losing bids for top honors, The Sopranos finally claimed the elusive crown as U.S. television's best drama, rubbing out competition from defending champion, NBC political drama The West Wing.
Angels in America, an adaptation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS epidemic, won 11 Emmys, the most of any show this year, and eclipsed the miniseries record of nine Emmys set by ABC's seminal slavery drama Roots in 1977. Angels stars Al Pacino and Meryl Streep picked up the awards for best lead actor and lead actress in a miniseries. "There are some days when I think I am overrated, but not today," a delighted Streep said from the stage. Sopranos, about a conflicted New Jersey mob boss, earned four Emmys in all. Michael Imperioli was named best supporting actor in a drama series for his role as the hit man nephew, and Drea de Matteo, who played his ill-fated girlfriend, won for best supporting actress in a drama series. It was the first time a cable network show had won for best drama. Sopranos creator David Chase said the triumph came as a relief. "It's hard to talk about it. We put a lot of work into it, and we've gotten better at our jobs, and it's good that it finally paid off," he said, adding that the series would end next year, after a sixth season, joking that otherwise "it might get worse."
Besides the victory for Grammer, who played the lovable elitist Dr. Frasier Crane on TV for 20 years, his series costar, David Hyde Pierce, went home with the statuette for best supporting actor in a comedy. "They say that television and comedy in television is changing," Pierce said, alluding to the growing prime-time dominance of "reality" shows. "And I just want to say, when it changes back, call me." HBO, which has grown from a movie channel to a powerhouse of original programming, finished the night with 32 Emmys, the most of any network. Its closest rival was Fox, with 10 prizes. NBC was third with eight awards, followed by ABC and the public television network PBS with seven each. Sex and the City's Parker, defeated in her last five acting nominations for the show, called her victory "worth the wait." She added, "But...I hope I've been a grateful loser in the past." Allison Janney won her second Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her role as White House press secretary C.J. Cregg on The West Wing.
Playwright Kushner made an unusual acceptance speech by thanking his husband, Mark, saying, "One of these days we can get a legal marriage license, and you can make an honest homosexual out of me." The comment, referring to the debate over same-sex marriage, was a rare political comment during an evening in which the entertainment industry celebrated its finest rather than choosing sides on controversial issues. Onstage, Sopranos star James Gandolfini was cut off when he was trying to acknowledge an infantry unit in Iraq that had named its Bradley Fighting Vehicle after Tony Soprano's boat. Show director Louis Horvitz said cutting him off was not intentional.
Here is a complete list of winners of the 56th annual prime-time Emmy Awards:
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: David Hyde Pierce, Frasier (NBC)
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos (HBO)
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City (HBO)
Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Drea de Matteo, The Sopranos (HBO)
Directing, Comedy Series: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, Arrested Development, "Pilot" (Fox)
Writing, Comedy Series: Mitchell Hurwitz, Arrested Development, "Pilot" (Fox)
Directing, Drama Series: Walter Hill, Deadwood, "Deadwood (Pilot)" (HBO)
Writing, Drama Series: Terence Winter, The Sopranos, "Long Term Parking" (HBO)
Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie, Jeffrey Wright, Angels in America (HBO)
Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Mary-Louise Parker, Angels in America (HBO)
Individual Performance, Variety or Music Program: Elaine Stritch, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty (HBO)
Directing, Variety, Music, or Comedy Program: Louis J. Horvitz, The 76th Annual Academy Awards (ABC)
Writing, Variety, Music, or Comedy Program: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Variety, Music, or Comedy Series: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Writing, Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special: Tony Kushner, Angels in America (HBO)
Reality-Competition Program: The Amazing Race (CBS)
Made for Television Movie: Something the Lord Made (HBO)
Lead Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Al Pacino, Angels in America (HBO)
Lead Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Meryl Streep, Angels in America (HBO)
Directing, Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special: Mike Nichols, Angels in America (HBO)
Miniseries: Angels in America (HBO)
Lead Actress, Drama Series: Allison Janney, The West Wing (NBC)
Lead Actress, Comedy Series: Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City (HBO)
Lead Actor, Comedy Series: Kelsey Grammer, Frasier (NBC)
Lead Actor, Drama Series: James Spader, The Practice (ABC)
Comedy Series: Arrested Development (Fox)
Drama Series: The Sopranos (HBO)