The Television Academy thumbed its nose at the GOP this morning, showering "The Reagans" -- the TV movie the Republican Party tried to censor -- with seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations. That includes acting nominations for Judy Davis, who played Nancy Reagan in the movie, and for James Brolin as Ronald Reagan, as well as nominations for best writing and best telefilm.
In another nod to the Reagan administration, "Angels in America," HBO's miniseries adapted from Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about New Yorkers affected by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, bagged a leading 21 Emmy nominations -- still no challenge to the most nominated miniseries in Emmy history, ABC's 1977 broadcast of "Roots."
HBO set a Primetime Emmy record this year with 124 nominations -- nearly double NBC's 65. CBS received 44 nominations, ABC had 33, Fox had 31, and PBS had 27.
"Hollywood really came through for us," said an elated Craig Zadan. Zadan and producing partner Neil Meron found themselves condemned as traitors by some conservatives because of "The Reagans," which was originally ordered as a miniseries by CBS for last November's sweeps. The telefilm wound up running on the Showtime cable channel in December when the broadcast network caved under political pressure. Critics charged, before having seen the project, that it cast the former president as being overly influenced by the first lady, that Reagan turned his back on the AIDS crisis, and that the couple had little time for their children.
"The work rose above the controversy," added Meron; that controversy included the introduction of a bill in Congress by Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) to replace Franklin D. Roosevelt's face on the dime with that of Reagan, as a response to the movie.
"We really wanted this acknowledgement, because we were so beat up," Meron told The TV Column.
HBO's mob drama, "The Sopranos," copped 20 nominations this year, seven more than last year, to become this year's second most nominated program. Last year's most nominated series, HBO's "Six Feet Under," was not eligible this year because of its play dates.
Next in line, although not close, was NBC's "The West Wing," with 12 nominations. That's a far cry from the 22 it received just two seasons earlier. Even so, TV critics attending Summer TV Press Tour 2004 seemed surprised by the recognition. Just days earlier, Kevin Reilly, NBC entertainment division president, told them the White House drama was "challenged" last season because of the departure of creator Aaron Sorkin, adding that executive producer John Wells would try to "juice it up creatively" this coming season.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has named "The West Wing" the best drama series on television every year since 2000; this year it's in the running with "The Sopranos," CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," Fox's "24" and CBS's freshman "Joan of Arcadia."
"Joan" appeared to be the beneficiary of changes in Emmy rules intended to recognize more freshman series; the academy has been criticized for repeatedly awarding trophies to the same old shows. Starting this year, academy members could choose as many as 10 nominees per category, double the previous number, and the top five vote-getters became the nominees in each category.
Also basking in the rule change was HBO's new western, "Deadwood" -- this year's fourth most nominated program with 11, although its haul does not include one for best series. "Deadwood" shares fourth-place status with HBO's "Sex and the City," which received a goodbye kiss from the academy in the form of a nomination for best sitcom. The academy was not so affectionate toward NBC's departed "Friends" and "Frasier." So "Sex" will brawl instead with Fox's "Arrested Development," last year's winning "Everybody Loves Raymond" on CBS, HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and NBC's "Will & Grace."
John Ritter, who died while taping last season's third episode of ABC's "8 Simple Rules," got a nomination for best sitcom actor, joining "Monk's" Tony Shalhoub, who was last year's winner, as well as Larry David of "Curb," Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier" and Matt LeBlanc of "Friends."
"Sex's" Sarah Jessica Parker will vie for the best sitcom actress crown against Jennifer Aniston of "Friends, Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond," Bonnie Hunt of "Life with Bonnie" and Jane Kaczmarek of "Malcolm in the Middle."
For drama, the lead actress nominees were last year's winner Edie Falco of "The Sopranos," Jennifer Garner of ABC's "Alias," Mariska Hargitay of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Allison Janney of "The West Wing" and Amber Tamblyn of "Joan."
Last year's lead actor winner, James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos," faces competition this year from Anthony LaPaglia of CBS's "Without a Trace," Martin Sheen of "The West Wing," James Spader of ABC's canceled "The Practice" and Kiefer Sutherland of Fox's "24."
Joining "The Reagans" in the TV movie competition are "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself," "Something the Lord Made," "Ike: Countdown to D-Day" and "The Lion in Winter."
Competing with "Angels in America" for best miniseries are "American Family: Journey of Dreams," "Horatio Hornblower," "Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness" and "Traffic: The Miniseries."
And on Sept. 19, America will find out whether the Donald's NBC reality series "The Apprentice" will dethrone CBS's "Amazing Race," which last year was named best reality series. Or whether academy members will instead determine NBC's "Last Comic Standing," CBS's "Survivor" or Fox's "American Idol" to be the best of the unscripted bunch.
Mike "The Little Pirate" Darnell literally came out swinging this afternoon in response to charges he has pirated reality series from other broadcast networks.
"I found out the other day Jeff Zucker is my daddy -- you know, you can't choose your parents," the Fox reality programming guru said after making his Loretta Young entrance at Summer TV Press Tour 2004, bouncing around the stage in black satin boxing shorts, red boxing gloves and a silver robe with his fighting name printed on the back.
Five days earlier, NBC Universal Television Group President Zucker had accused Darnell of stealing NBC's reality boxing series concept, and he also told critics that Darnell was developing a reality series called "Who's My Daddy," in which a young woman tries to figure out which of a group of men is her real father.
"They're scared -- they know we're going to beat them," Darnell told the surprised crowd of critics who have now been holed up in the bowels of the Westin Century Plaza Hotel in West Los Angeles for a solid week.
Earlier in the day, Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said NBC concocted the piracy charges to distract critics from asking questions about how NBC finished the television season just one-tenth of a rating point ahead of Fox among young viewers.
"We believe the fact that our competitors are generating this controversy is directly related to the fact that we are closer to Number 1 than ever and closer than our rivals would have ever thought possible," Berman said.
"There's no need to defend ourselves. The baseless allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable."
Television is inherently a business of overly precise tribute, she explained.
"There are two boxing shows," she acknowledged, adding: "There were three Amy Fisher movies; there were two Diana movies. This is the way the business works. There's nothing new about it."
Although a script is a "copyrightable entity," a TV show idea is not, she noted.
"Just like scripted programming, the unscripted world has reached a point where multiple projects with similar themes are being pitched simultaneously. . . . In the creative world, ideas must be fluid, and no one can claim sole ownership of an entire arena."
Two days after Zucker appeared before TV critics, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson accused Fox of lifting its concept for its fall reality series "Wife Swap." Fox's "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy" is scheduled to open before ABC's series, which was announced last fall.
Joining Darnell onstage, reality series producer Arthur Smith, whose credits include Fox's plastic surgery beauty pageant series, "The Swan," said such "spontaneous combustion" happens all the time in the world of unscripted TV series. "We're all influenced by the same things," he said.
Both Berman and Darnell said the only reason Fox's mom-swap series is debuting before ABC's wife-swap show is because ABC's show, which was originally slated to debut last spring, got put off twice. As for the boxing series, Berman told critics that Fox was among the networks that made a bid for Mark Burnett's "The Contender" before it was sold to NBC, after which Fox bought one of five other boxing series pitches, from reality production company Endemol.
When one critic asked Berman about Zucker's comment that Fox "used to be innovators and now they're imitators," she shot back, "That's coming to you from the instigator."