For once, it wasn't entirely a case of "thine own worst Emmy," partly because the 42nd Annual Emmy Awards, televised live on Fox TV stations last night, included some spectacularly deserving winners.
There was also, however, a startling shocker -- the virtual shutout of the much-ballyhooed "Twin Peaks," which had been expected to win big.
Among the happy victors was "Cheers" star Ted Danson, winning as best actor in a comedy series after being nominated without success eight previous times. "You'll be saying 'You were robbed' to some other boy tonight," Danson cheerfully told the audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
In an upset, however, "Murphy Brown" beat "Cheers" as best comedy series. And "L.A. Law" beat, among others, "Twin Peaks," "thirtysomething" and "China Beach" to take the Emmy for best drama series, adding to the nine Emmys "L.A. Law" has won in its four years on the air.
Patricia Wettig, chosen best actress for her continuing role on the yuppie drama "thirtysomething," contributed one of the most emotional moments of the evening when, in her acceptance speech, she thanked "women with cancer who have shared their stories with me so wholeheartedly." Wettig's character, Nancy, developed ovarian cancer last season.
"I truly salute your courage," Wettig continued, tears in her eyes.
Candice Bergen won as best actress in a comedy for the second straight year for playing "Murphy Brown" onCBS; Barbara Hershey was named best actress in a movie or miniseries for her shattering portrayal of a woman who murders her neighbor with an ax in the CBS docudrama "A Killing in a Small Town"; and Bebe Neuwirth won best supporting actress in a comedy for playing Dr. Lilith Sternin Crane on "Cheers."
Jimmy Smits, named best supporting actor for his work as firebrand attorney Victor Sifuentes on NBC's "L.A. Law," began his acceptance speech by saying, "I have to thank God, my higher power, for giving me the strength." Choreographer Paula Abdul, accepting her trophy for the dances on the American Music Awards show, thanked, among others, "God and my agent." Almost everybody thanked his kids.
Fox, the part-time network that has been home to the Emmy show for the past three years -- and just signed a contract for three more -- got the pleasant surprise of seeing its new satire show "In Living Color," which features a multiracial cast and crew, win as best variety, music or comedy series.
But the jaw-dropper of the evening was the failure of ABC's elegantly twisted soap opera "Twin Peaks" to win a single Emmy, much less stage the raid it had been expected to (the series did win a couple of craft awards at an earlier, un-televised ceremony).
The first ominous sign came when David Lynch, the series's celebrated and eccentric co-creator, failed to win the Emmy for best director of a drama series episode. In a tie, it went instead to Thomas Carter of "Equal Justice" and Scott Winant of "thirtysomething," both ABC shows.
Later, "Twin Peaks" lost a writing award to David E. Kelley, executive producer of "L.A. Law."
After that, it began to seem the TV Academy voters were determined to honor any show but "Twin Peaks," even going to such extremes as naming Peter Falk best actor in a drama series for starring in a listless revival of "Columbo" on ABC.
Perhaps the quixotic voting patterns represent a rebellion against TV critics, who were almost unanimous in praising "Twin Peaks," or just a negative reaction to all the hype heaped on the program.
But -- Peter Falk for "Columbo"??? It made rather a mockery of the Emmycast's putative theme, "Welcome to the '90s."
As at all awards shows, the program was slowed down by overlong speeches, cutesy chitchat among presenters, mediocre production numbers -- in Emmy's case, samples of nominees for best choreography -- and far too many categories and winners.
There's another problem peculiar to the Emmys -- a neurotic insistence on proclaiming ties in several categories. Ties only diminish the value of the awards, and they aren't all that valued to begin with. It was anticlimactic when the award for best drama special went to both "The Incident" and "Caroline?," two CBS specials.
For all those drawbacks, the Emmycast wasn't a terrible show. It was basically passionless and lacked sparkle, but it also went by with a certain painless panache and even a touch of class -- as when Ted Koppel presented the honorary Governors Award to former ABC chairman Leonard H. Goldenson, a television pioneer.
Awards were divided fairly evenly among the networks, with none accomplishing a major sweep. Both ABC and CBS pulled ahead of NBC as the show wore on, a sign that NBC has lost the "quality network" reputation it enjoyed under former chairman Grant A. Tinker and prior to the company's takeover by General Electric.
ABC is the red-hot network now, CBS the sympathetic underdog and Fox the feisty upstart. NBC is still first in the ratings, but it's gone blah.
Among the highlights last night was an appearance by "The Simpsons," the Fox cartoon family that became an overnight American institution last season. The animated characters were superimposed on the live picture, making it look as though they were really walking down the aisle and giving out a prize.
Tracey Ullman, whose acclaimed comedy anthology series was canceled by Fox at the end of last season, nevertheless saw it win two Emmys, one to her for best performer in a music or variety show. "Maybe I should have taken the two minutes I was offered in the middle of 'The Simpsons,' " Ullman joked, a reference to the fact that the Simpsons were first showcased in small doses on her program.
"I breast-fed the little devils," she said.
Naturally there were gaffes and goofs. Rue McClanahan of "The Golden Girls" said the big question of the year was, "Who killed Laura Helmsley?" She meant Laura Palmer, the crucial corpse of "Twin Peaks." McClanahan giggled and said, "I don't watch television."
A very flustered Joseph Sargent, who won for his direction of the CBS movie "Caroline?," could not recall the name of the young actress who played a learning-disabled child in the film. The best he could do was "the little girl in Chicago ... Miss Jacobs." For the record, her name was Jenny Jacobs, and she was the 1982 Cerebral Palsy poster child.
There was also an unfortunate tendency toward inane smuttiness in the scripted patter. It started at once with presenters Kirstie Alley and Danson joking about unzipped flies and arousal. Later, Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis, costars of ABC's "Anything but Love," kept saying the word "horny." It was anything but funny.
Any Emmy show that isn't a total debacle is something of a victory, however. This year's, produced by Martin Starger, did have its moments. And it only ran about 15 moments beyond its allotted three hours, almost a miracle.
Hosts were Bergen, Jane Pauley and comedian Jay Leno, who at an hour and 10 minutes into the program told the crowd, "It's hard to believe we're almost a tenth of the way through the show, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, it's true."
The Emmys have always represented a peculiar combination of self-loathing and self-promotion for the television industry. In addition to all the wisecracks at TV's expense, producer Diane English, the creator of "Murphy Brown," said in accepting the award for best comedy series that as an Emmy judge (not in her own category), she gained a new appreciation for the TV excellence that does exist.
"After viewing the nominated work," English said, "I was so proud to be working in television." She seemed to mean it too, and there were times during the Emmys that one could understand why.
Early winners announced at last night's Emmy Awards:
Drama Series: "L.A. Law," NBC.
Comedy Series: "Murphy Brown," CBS.
Miniseries: "Drug Wars: The Camerena Story," NBC.
Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "In Living Color," Fox.
Variety, Music or Comedy Special: "Sammy Davis Jr.'s 60th Anniversary Celebration," ABC.
Drama Special: Tie: "Hallmark Hall of Fame: Caroline?," CBS; "AT&T Presents: The Incident," CBS.
Lead Actor, Drama Series: Peter Falk, "Columbo," ABC.
Lead Actress, Drama Series: Patricia Wettig, "thirtysomething," ABC.
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Jimmy Smits, "L.A. Law."
Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Marg Helgenberger, "China Beach," ABC.
Lead Actor, Comedy Series: Ted Danson, "Cheers," NBC.
Lead Actress, Comedy Series: Candice Bergen, "Murphy Brown," CBS.
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Alex Rocco, "The Famous Teddy Z," CBS.
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Bebe Neuwirth, "Cheers."
Lead Actor, Miniseries or Special: Hume Cronyn, "Age-Old Friends," HBO.
Lead Actress, Miniseries or Special: Barbara Hershey, "A Killing in a Small Town," CBS.
Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Special: Vincent Gardenia, "Age-Old Friends."
Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Special: Eva Marie Saint, "People Like Us," NBC.
Individual Performance, Variety or Music Program: Tracey Ullman, "The Best of the Tracey Ullman Show," Fox.
Directing, Drama Series: Tie: Thomas Carter, "Equal Justice," ABC; and Scott Winant, "thirtysomething."
Directing, Comedy Series: Michael Dinner, "The Wonder Years," ABC.
Directing, Miniseries or Special: Joseph Sargent, "Caroline?"
Directing, Variety or Music Program: Dwight Hemion, "The Kennedy Center Honors," CBS.
Writing, Drama Series: David E. Kelley, "L.A. Law."
Writing, Comedy Series: Bob Brush, "The Wonder Years."
Writing, Miniseries or Special: Terrence McNally, "Andre's Mother," PBS.
Writing, Variety or Music Program: Tie: "Billy Crystal: Midnight Train to Moscow," HBO; and "The Tracey Ullman Show," Fox.
Governors Award for Achievement in Television: Leonard Goldenson, chairman, Capital Cities/ABC Inc.
Art Direction: "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Choreography: "American Music Awards."