Tony Soprano must've cut a deal with the Feds and gone into hiding. "Friends" just disappeared. Nobody's getting any "Sex and the City," and you can't even check in with "Frasier" for a quick, mental health pick-me-up.
There will be a changing of the guard at this Sunday's Primetime Emmys -- an awards show often criticized for always honoring the same shows. Newcomers, including ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" and HBO's "Deadwood" are expected to dominate time in the winner's circle, while other TV favorites enjoy their final hurrah.
"It's thrilling," says "Desperate Housewives" Felicity Huffman. "It's the first time I've ever had an Emmy nomination. It's great, it's just that I have to take a shower and find a dress. Other than that, I'm psyched. If I could go in my pajamas, it would be awesome."
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences didn't necessarily change its voting habits. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kelsey Grammer and the "Friends" gang simply ended their shows, while other favorites like "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" were on hiatus or didn't air enough episodes last season to qualify.
The combined effect is somewhat staggering. In the 20 slots for lead acting, only seven of last year's nominees are returning. What's more, only three of the seven -- Tony Shalhoub ("Monk"), James Spader ("Boston Legal") and Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") -- have won Emmys for their current roles.
Cussin' Cowboys vs. Desperate Castaways
Conspicuously absent from this year's list of hopefuls are such perennial nominees as James Gandolfini, Michael Chiklis and Dennis Franz. Allison Janney would be honored, in part, if "The West Wing," wins as best drama. But Janney isn't up for best actress, which she's won four out of the past five years.
"West Wing," a four-time Emmy winner for best drama, earned an unprecedented fifth consecutive nomination but might not be a factor in this year's voting. Tom O'Neil of GoldDerby.com sees Sunday's race as a tossup between "Deadwood" and "Lost."
"'Deadwood' is a hard show to like," says O'Neil. "It's full of cuss words and nasty people doing nasty things to each other. Emmy voters tend to like huggable shows. They've given a lot of awards to 'The Sopranos,' but 'Deadwood' is arguably grittier than that."
Among comedy series, ABC's "Housewives" is expected to clean up. The network could have entered its top show as a drama, but didn't want it competing against "Lost." It's a gamble that might backfire if sentiment for CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond," which ended this spring, runs strong. However, the move is not unprecedented.
"'Desperate Housewives' has nothing to be desperate about," says O'Neil. "It's pulling an 'Ally McBeal' in that it's a one-hour dramedy that decided to compete on the comedy side. That worked for 'Ally' in 1999, and it's going to work for the housewives this year."
Concern over Hurricane Katrina has pervaded almost every aspect of American life, and it will be strongly reflected in Sunday's show, which will be broadcast live from Los Angeles on CBS. Host Ellen DeGeneres is a New Orleans native, and several of her relatives, including an 82-year-old aunt, lost their homes in the disaster.
It's unclear what DeGeneres will say, but each presenter and performer will be handed a magnolia, the state flower of both Louisiana and Mississippi, where Katrina unleashed the worst of its fury.
"There's just nobody better to walk on that stage that night and be able to comment on it and bring a personal perspective on it," says Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of Sunday's festivities.
"Equally important, she knows how to handle a situation like this."
Four years ago, DeGeneres showed great poise hosting the show in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Ehrlich says.
The Gulf Coast disaster also figures in an Emmy tribute to news anchors -- the retired Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and the late Peter Jennings -- which is meant to showcase their contributions to TV reportage.
"We had designed this tribute long before the hurricane hit," Ehrlich says. "But it kind of added an extra layer of both currency, and, in a sense, import to it, because, you know, these are the three men for the last 40 years that we've seen the world through. It's going to make it an even more emotional, and, I think, more impactful segment."
To lighten things up, this year's show also includes a wacky celebrity singalong. This takeoff on "American Idol" -- dubbed "Emmy Idol" -- will feature "The Apprentice" star Donald Trump and "Will & Grace's" Megan Mullally singing the theme from "Green Acres."
In another unlikely duet, Gary Dourdan of "CSI" and Macy Gray will belt out "Movin' On Up" from "The Jeffersons." Also featured is Kristen Bell of "Veronica Mars" with her version of "Fame," and William Shatner of "Boston Legal" revisiting the "Star Trek" theme with the help of opera star Frederica von Stade.
The musical opening includes a performance by the Black Eyed Peas and Earth Wind & Fire, interspersed with TV highlights from the past year.
Here's how some key Emmy races shape up:
Drama Series: Last year, "The Sopranos" broke "The West Wing's" four-year winning streak. The White House drama has returned, but a ratings drop doesn't bode well for these beltway boys.
"Six Feet Under," another critics' darling, bowed off the air gracefully several weeks ago. But "Deadwood" is clearly HBO's best candidate. With its innovative real-time format and hunky Kiefer Sutherland, Fox's "24" has been a candidate for each of the four years it's been on the air. But as two of the most heavily nominated dramas, "Deadwood" and "Lost" figure to be slugging it out all evening.
Comedy Series: "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Will & Grace" are longtime favorites. But last season's ratings powerhouse, "Desperate Housewives" is brimming with buzz. Also nominated are Fox's "Arrested Development" and NBC's "Scrubs."
Actor, Drama Series: James Spader took his 2004 Emmy-winning character from "The Practice" -- ethically challenged attorney Alan Shore -- and now practices unscrupulously on "Boston Legal." But he's going to have a tougher time making a case for back-to-back victories.
Sutherland might be TV's No. 1 action hero, and "24" is only gaining momentum. The man to beat, however, is "Deadwood's" Ian McShane. Also in the mix are Hank Azaria of "Huff" and Hugh Laurie of "House."
Actress, Drama Series: Irony is on Glenn Close's side. She's spoken of as if she's won an Academy Award, but she might go down in history as an Emmy-winning actress and not an Oscar winner. Her turn as Capt. Monica Rawling on "The Shield" has gotten raves, and the cop drama has already proven to be an Emmy voters' favorite. (Close won her first Emmy in 1995 for a TV movie.)
Among the other nominees, Patricia Arquette of "Medium" is the only first-timer. It's an impressive field that includes Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under"), Jennifer Garner ("Alias") and Mariska Hargitay ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit").
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Just call Alan Alda "Mr. Emmy." The former "M*A*S*H" star has wracked up 25 nominations and five wins. His latest is for his work on "West Wing" as a Republican senator with presidential aspirations -- a performance not too far off from his role last year in "The Aviator," which earned the 69-year-old actor his first Oscar nod.
Another classic TV star, William Shatner, is also in the mix. Shatner's bombastic senior partner Denny Crain on ABC's "Boston Legal" is galaxies away from Capt. Kirk. But "Boston Legal" has yet to find the audience that other David E. Kelley legal dramas have enjoyed.
Award shows love comeback stories, but Alda and Shatner are going to have a tough time beating Terry O'Quinn -- a standout on "Lost" -- even if he must battle fellow cast member Naveen Andrews. Also nominated is Oliver Platt of "Huff."
Supporting Actress, Drama Series: "West Wing's" Stockard Channing has been nominated six consecutive years. She took home the trophy in 2002, but it's hard to make the case that she'll be honored again. If Channing has been at it too long to impress voters, Sandra Oh of "Grey's Anatomy" might have the exact opposite problem. Her show premiered in March, and less than a full season of work might not be enough to garner a victory.
This might leave Blythe Danner of Showtime's "Huff" in a good position. Danner is up for three Emmys this year, including one as best guest actress in a comedy series for her turn as Will's mom on "Will & Grace." In real life, Danner is Gwyneth Paltrow's mom, and she got a lot of exposure for her work in the box office hit "Meet the Fockers."
Other nominees: Tyne Daly of CBS' "Judging Amy" and CCH Pounder of FX's "The Shield."
Actor, Comedy Series: Two Emmy newbies -- Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development") and Zach Braff ("Scrubs") -- face off against three perennials -- "Monk's" Tony Shalhoub, "Will & Grace's" Eric McCormack, and the man who virtually can't lose, Ray Romano.
Romano has two wins and 13 nominations, and will probably receive one more parting gift. McCormack, a four-time nominee, took home the prize in 2001, while Shalhoub, a three-time nominee, got his in 2003.
Actress, Comedy Series: It's a catfight on Wisteria Lane. Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman of "Desperate Housewives" face off against each other. If they split the vote, either Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Malcolm in the Middle's" Jane Kaczmarek could be a factor.
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: There's nothing Hollywood loves more than itself. And that's good news for Jeremy Piven, the snarky superagent Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage."
Two of Piven's rivals -- Peter Boyle ("Raymond") and Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development") -- fall in the "always a bridesmaid" category. Boyle is zero-for-seven and Tambor is making his fifth bid, after four nominations for his stint on "The Larry Sanders Show."
The other two nominees are former winners -- Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") and Brad Garrett ("Raymond") -- and both of them have created characters that will live forever in TV's pantheon of wacky sitcom characters. But it's unlikely they'll win again.
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Doris Roberts has three-peated as "Raymond's" overbearing mom. Could she have one more win in her pantry? Could Mullally, a six-time nominee, get a second taste of glory as "Will & Grace's" vodka-and-Prozac-swilling Karen Walker?
Perhaps the best bet is "Two And a Half Men's" Holland Taylor, who plays Charlie Sheen's socialite mother. The CBS show has consistently scored high ratings, and Taylor's castmate, Conchata Ferrell, is also nominated. "Arrested Development's" Jessica Walter is also in the running.