Desperate Housewives looms large over Emmys

The ABC network,
on the rebound from a lengthy ratings slump, appears
headed for a banner night at the Emmy Awards on Sunday with
its two breakout hits, Lost and Desperate
, heavily favored to sweep U.S.
television's highest honors. Both shows represent a turning
point for the Emmys and for prime-time TV generally,
invigorating the often repetitive awards competition
and ushering in a new wave of formula-breaking shows
to television this season.

Desperate Housewives, a wry, steamy saga of
suburban intrigue that ranked as the top-rated new show last
season, is competing in 15 Emmy categories, including
the race for best comedy, tying veteran NBC sitcom
Will & Grace as this year's most
nominated series. If Housewives wins for best comedy,
as many expect, it would mark ABC's first
outstanding-comedy prize since 1988, when the award
went to The Wonder Years. ABC also won the top
drama award that year with thirtysomething.

Desperate Housewives, which some TV sitcom
veterans have grumbled is more of a drama wedged unfairly
into the Emmys' comedy contest, led the way for a
ratings turnaround at the Walt Disney–owned
network last season and sparked a parade of new
female-skewing shows on other networks. Housewives,
from out creator Marc Cherry, also has yielded
best-actress nominations for three of its
stars—Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, and Felicity
Huffman—with most critics picking Hatcher and
Cross as front-runners. If the ladies of Wisteria Lane
end up canceling each other out, however, two-time winner
Patricia Heaton could eke out yet another Emmy for her
role as the Ray Romano's sharp-tongued wife on the
final season of CBS hit Everybody Loves Raymond. The
contest for best actor in a comedy is harder to call
this year, with most observers seeing a three-way race
among three past winners—Romano, Eric McCormack of
Will & Grace, and Tony Shalhoub of USA
Network's Monk.

Meanwhile, ABC's
eerie new castaway thriller Lost, widely seen as
sparking a trend toward high-concept, supernatural
themes in prime time this fall, leads the field of
drama series contenders with 12 nominations. Most observers
say Lost—like Housewives in the
comedy race—is a virtual shoo-in for the
coveted best-drama prize. But they point to the British
star of a Fox hit, Hugh Laurie, as the odds-on favorite to
win best actor in a drama for his role as the grumpy
doctor with a limp on House. James Spader also is a
contender for his portrayal of an ethically challenged
attorney on ABC's Boston Legal. In the battle for
best actress in a drama, Emmy watchers have singled
out the stars of two cop shows—Glenn Close for
her role on cable network FX's The Shield and
Mariska Hargitay from NBC's Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit

If predictions
prove correct for Housewives and Lost,
both would break with tradition by winning top honors
in their first seasons. Emmy voters typically
gravitate toward older, familiar shows. Housewives
has another potential strike against it as a show that
plays like a prime-time soap opera, a genre that even
in its Dallas and Dynasty heyday tended to get

Likewise, the
fantasy element of Lost could prove a turnoff
to Emmy voters, who have a history of preferring more
realistic offerings, according to Emmy pundit Tom O'Neil,
host of the entertainment awards Web site He said NBC's political drama The
West Wing
, a four-time past winner, posed the
biggest threat to Lost in this year's race
because it "feels important." But he said that "buzz
and the cool factor" give an edge to Lost.
"Lost and Desperate Housewives revitalized
broadcast television, which is the business of the
vast majority of Emmy voters, and they appreciate
that," O'Neil told Reuters.

Other nominees
for best drama are the Fox espionage thriller 24 and
two HBO productions—the gritty, vulgar Western
Deadwood and funereal family soap Six Feet
, which just ended its last season. Rounding
out the comedy race are last year's winner, Arrested
on Fox, as well as Will & Grace,
the NBC hospital sitcom Scrubs, and Everybody
Loves Raymond
, which just completed its nine-year
run on CBS. (Reuters)

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