We bet Ellen DeGeneres will plug her new CBS sitcom when she emcees that network's presentation of the 53rd Annual Emmy Awards (Sun., Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET). Otherwise, no wagering—but here are the winners we'd like to see.
Law & Order (NBC)
The Practice (ABC)
The Sopranos (HBO)
The West Wing (NBC)
The West Wing slipped a bit after last year's win, but The Sopranos was as compelling as ever with its mixture of domestic conflict, mordant humor and Machiavellian Mob maneuvering. In the category of best writing for a drama series, four of the five nominations went to The Sopranos. Quite a statement.
Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
Malcolm in the Middle (FOX)
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Though it's not the hippest, sexiest or wildest comedy in the field, Everybody Loves Raymond deserves its first top honor for delivering five seasons of solid laughs. Malcolm in the Middle, the only nominee not on last year's list, rates runner-up recognition for taking family dynamics to the next level of lunacy.
Andre Braugher, Gideon's Crossing (ABC)
Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue (ABC)
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos (HBO)
Rob Lowe, The West Wing (NBC)
Martin Sheen, The West Wing (NBC)
Watching Gandolfini as Tony Soprano calls to mind those old movie ads—"Paul Newman is Hud"—that suggested a star's performance was more than mere play-acting. Every word and gesture seems real, even as the Mafioso lies to his wife, rationalizes to his shrink and mourns those he has murdered. Sheen remains presidential and Franz is perennially worthy. Braugher is always good, though his defunct show could have been better. But to deny Gandolfini his second Emmy would be an act of disrespect.
Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos (HBO)
Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy (CBS)
Edie Falco, The Sopranos (HBO)
Marg Helgenberger, CSI (CBS)
Sela Ward, Once and Again (ABC)
In all fairness, castmates Bracco and Falco should have joint custody of this award. When psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi was sexually assaulted in a March episode, Bracco was unforgettably effective at conveying the character's pain, fear and rage. But again we bow to Falco for her well-rounded portrayal of a Mafia wife torn between conscience and comfort. While Carmela Soprano is trapped in a moral contradiction, Falco's work is a model of consistency. Ward, who won this category last year, merits an honorable mention.
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier(NBC)
John Lithgow, 3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC)
Eric McCormack, Will& Grace (NBC)
Frankie Muniz, Malcolm in the Middle (FOX)
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
A lead-actor Emmy would be a nice parting gift for Lithgow, the farceur extraordinaire whose series wrapped last spring after 5 ½ seasons. But come on, he and Grammer already have three apiece in this category. While the 15-year-old Muniz is engaging as a boy genius who's also a regular kid, maybe he should wait pick up an Emmy till he's licensed to drive it home. Finally, proper attention should be paid to Romano, whose timing and delivery get better and better.
Calista Fiockhart, Ally Mcbeal (FOX)
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond(CBS)
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle (FOX)
Debra Messing, Will & Grace (NBC)
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City (HBO)
Frankly, we might well go for Heaton if she hadn't taken this category last year. But a share-the-wealth impulse leads us to choose between Parker, irresistible as a vulnerable woman-about-town, and Kaczmarek as the loving but fearsome mom who can freeze her raucous brood's blood by screaming, "Boyyzzz!" Better give a slight edge to Kaczmarek or else she'll ground us for a month.