Going Out With a Bang & a Bleep

By Tom Shales
Monday, September 17, 2007

A surprise win for the comedy series "30 Rock," a rousing farewell to "The Sopranos" (including an Emmy for best drama series) and a moving tribute to the classic miniseries "Roots" elevated the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards on the Fox network last night -- but three instances of government-mandated censorship brought it down again.

Early in the program, comic actor Ray Romano and actress Katherine Heigl were both cut off when they apparently used four-letter words in remarks. The performers suddenly vanished for a few seconds and were replaced by static shots from elsewhere in Los Angeles's Shrine Auditorium, where the telecast originated. The program was on time-delay, which gives networks the opportunity to edit live shows.

An arguably obscene word uttered even spontaneously can earn a network and even performers enormous fines from the Federal Communications Commission, re-activated as a national censor under the Bush administration.

The third instance of censorship may have been political. Sally Field, making one of her long and rambling acceptance speeches (winning for best actress in a drama on "Brothers & Sisters"), was interrupted by silence when she used a God-related swear word in voicing antiwar sentiments. According to the Associated Press, she said, "If the mothers ruled the world, there would be no [expletive] wars in the first place."

If Fox censored Field for political reason, it would be an ugly first in the history of the Emmys.

Presenter Brad Garrett made smutty remarks from the stage earlier in the evening but he didn't use any forbidden words, so he survived uncut.

The evening was almost a shutout for CBS, which won only one Emmy among those given out last night -- "The Amazing Race" was chosen best reality competition. Otherwise ABC won six Emmys, NBC (the lowest-rated network last season) seven, HBO six and three to PBS (all for the imported miniseries "Prime Suspect: The Final Act").

Although "Sopranos" lost in some categories, Emmys went to David Chase, creator of the epic drama, for writing the much-talked-about series finale, and to Alan Taylor for directing an episode called "Kennedy and Heidi." HBO also won the Emmy for best TV movie: "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," a long-delayed adaptation about promises broken to Native Americans in the 19th century.

America Ferrera was named best actress in a comedy series for playing the title role in ABC's "Ugly Betty," and England's Ricky Gervais was chosen best comedy actor for his series "Extras" on HBO.

Accepting the best-comedy Emmy, series creator and star Tina Fey referred to the relatively low ratings for the show when she thanked "our dozens and dozens of viewers."

James Spader was a surprise winner as best actor in a drama for the ABC courtroom series "Boston Legal." It was a category that "Sopranos" was expected to take, and Spader said in his remarks, "I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob." He also touched on the arcane and mysterious apparatus behind the Emmy Awards when he said, "I have no idea who votes for these things or how you even secure a ballot."

Here and there, this year's Emmys reflected the changing landscape of television. One award was given to the Web site Current TV, which runs submissions from viewers. Al Gore, cheered at last spring's Oscar ceremony for his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," popped up at the Emmys as well, accepting the award for Current TV along with co-founder Joel Hyatt.

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