Sometimes on Television, Dreams Really Do Come True

By Tom Shales
Monday, August 28, 2006

Underdogs had their day at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards, televised live last night from Los Angeles. NBC, currently the network equivalent of the Hindenburg, won five of the golden statuettes, giving it a second-place finish to Emmy champ HBO, which won eight.

HBO's "Elizabeth I" was chosen best miniseries, and Helen Mirren, the acclaimed actress who merely has to put on a puffy wig to win an Emmy, won for best acting in a miniseries for handily handling the title role. In what could be called a surprise, Fox's drama "24," about a day in the life of a globe-shaking crisis, was named best drama series over such competition as HBO's "The Sopranos," which had returned for an abbreviated season.

Kiefer Sutherland, who acknowledged his actor-father, Donald, sitting in the audience, was named best actor in a series for saving the world each year on "24." NBC, meanwhile, took home the prize for best comedy series, an American adaptation of the British sitcom "The Office," originally created by and starring Ricky Gervais, who was acknowledged from the stage and sat cheering in the audience.

There was a lot of cheer in the air at the Emmy this year -- even if, as always, there were too many awards and the program entered its third hour at glacial speed -- thanks to Conan O'Brien, hosting the show for this second time and star of NBC's unfailingly funny "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," the most irreverent and outrageous of the midnightly network comedies. O'Brien not only delivered a cracklingly good monologue (Mel Gibson has a new series, he said, on the al-Jazeera network) but even sang and danced through a production number.

The song was "We Got Trouble," adapted from Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" so as to refer to a certain collapsing TV network whose first letter is "N" rather than the original subject, a pool table's arrival in a small Iowa town at the turn of another century.

Among the richly deserved and overdue awards were those given to Jeremy Piven, who plays Ari, the sharply dressed shark of an agent, in HBO's unique docu-comedy series "Entourage," about a young pop star and his cadre of hangers-on; and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won best actress in a comedy for her new CBS sitcom, "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

The actress mocked the "curse" that supposedly haunts alumni of "Seinfeld," the most successful and acclaimed sitcom ever. Members of its cast have not been able to develop hit shows of their own -- not like they need the money.

Reflecting a new reality of television, an Emmy was given to something that the professional writers and actors assembled consider The Enemy -- reality and competition TV shows. It even sounded like there were scattered boos from the house when the producers of CBS's "The Amazing Race" overran the stage to accept their fourth Emmy for best show of that genre.

Otherwise, CBS didn't exactly crush the competition. In the night's first award, Megan Mullally was named best supporting actress in a comedy for her work on NBC's now-departed "Will & Grace," and Alan Alda was chosen best supporting actor in a drama for his guest-starring gig on the also extinct "West Wing," an NBC drama set in the White House.

NBC freshman comedy "My Name is Earl" won Emmys for writing and direction, and NBC also scored when Mariska Hargitay was named best actress for her role on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," one of producer Dick Wolf's variations on the original "Law & Order" theme.

The program included a touching tribute to Dick Clark, who was introduced -- already seated at a podium -- by Simon Cowell. Clark's speech was somewhat slurred, the result of a stroke suffered last year, but he looked alert and determined. Less emotional was a tribute to producer Aaron Spelling, who died recently and whose family members are now reportedly fighting over his fortune.

At least the Spelling salute was an excuse to reunite the original three "Charlie's Angels" on the Emmy stage, although in at least two out of three cases, time and plastic surgery appeared to have taken their toll.

In a running gag, comic Bob Newhart was locked in a glass booth with, O'Brien said, only three hours' worth of oxygen -- so that if the show ran even one minute over, the veteran star would expire. But in fact, Newhart was released early to join O'Brien onstage and present the best comedy prize to "The Office." One of the producers said he and O'Brien had started off together and both hoped to end up in positions like the ones they hold now.

As Cowell had said earlier of Dick Clark: "Everybody should be so lucky to have their dreams come true."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company