'West Wing' Tops at Emmys

The White House ruled and the gangsters got whacked, as The West Wing collected a record-setting nine awards at the Emmys.

The series beat the previous record of eight for a series in a single season, held by ER and Hill Street Blues. “There’s going to be no living with me now,” said West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, who won an Emmy for his writing.

Many observers expected the NBC drama to fight neck and neck with HBO’s The Sopranos for most accolades. Each show carried 18 nominations, including best drama. But The West Wing took honors for Best Drama and most other major categories when the two shows went head-to-head Sunday night.

The Sopranos narrowly avoided a shutout, with James Gandolfini taking the only award for the HBO series — the best actor award for his role as the psychologically tormented mob boss. The actor was surprised by the victory, offering his own explanation for his honor. “I think the academy has an affinity for slightly overweight bald men,” said Gandolfini.

Comic Surprise

In the best comedy category, NBC’s Will & Grace, about a gay man and straight woman who are best friends, defeated some higher-rated rivals like Friends and Frasier to become the night’s surprise victors.

“As a gay man, I finally met a girl I want to sleep with,” said one of the show’s producers, Matt Mutchnick, holding the Emmy statue of a woman with a globe in her hands.

Another surprise win came in the competition for Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Sela Ward won for her role as a recently divorced mom in ABC’s Once and Again, beating out two competing actresses from The Sopranos, Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco.

The live broadcast was hosted by a relaxed Garry Shandling who opened the show with a spoof on CBS’s reality TV blockbuster, Survivor. “I don’t like reality television, I think real people should not be on television,” he said in his monologue. “I think its for special people like us.”

Sentimental Favorites Michael J. Fox, who left the ABC comedy Spin City, in June to fight his Parkinson’s disease, won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, bringing the audience at Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium to its feet in a heartfelt ovation.

“Thanks, it’s been a great ride and stay tuned,” he said, after thanking a long list of colleagues and friends, including “Mom and my family in Canada.” The actor was well composed, though his voice quivered at times.

Another crowd favorite, Jack Lemmon, drew a standing ovation when he won best actor in a miniseries or movie for Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie. His co-star, Hank Azaria, also won an Emmy, and the show was honored as best TV movie.

“A little bit of magic,” said Lemmon, fighting back tears as he paid tribute to his family: “This and what I do, is important. But you are my life.”

For the third year in a row, David Letterman’s Late Show won the award for best variety series. It came during a year Letterman had to take a break for an emergency quintuple bypass operation in January.

“Dave, if you’re watching at home, it looks like the fake heart surgery paid off,” said the show’s executive producer, Rob Burnett.

In the first upset of the evening, Nancy Marchand, who played the scheming Mafia matriarch on The Sopranos, failed to win for supporting actress in a drama series. Allison Janney of The West Wing came out on top. Marchand, who was 71, died of lung cancer in June.

Janney, who plays a tough White House press secretary, paid tribute to Marchand, calling her “exquisite, elegant.”

NBC won bragging rights with 23 Emmys. HBO had 20 awards, ABC had 15, Fox had 11 and CBS had 7.

Shaking Things Up To spice things up, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences revamped the voting system, to encourage more people to vote.

Instead of requiring academy members to watch nominated shows in a hotel, the academy sent out videotapes for voters to watch at home. As a result, it nearly quadrupled the number of people voting. The old system tended to draw older academy members with more free time.

The change seems to have allowed edgy shows to snag awards. Some of the first awards went to Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes of Will and Grace for Supporting Actress and Actor in a Comedy Series. Todd Holland of Malcolm in the Middle won for Director, Comedy Series.

Patricia Heaton, who plays the long-suffering wife of comedian Ray Romano on the CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond, won best actress in a comedy. It was her first award.

Fashion Statements

Adding to the pre-show glitz, the red carpet that the flamboyant and elegantly dressed celebrities walk down was doubled in size. This move allowed the stars to enter with their personal publicists

Debra Messing, Stockard Channing and Molly Shannon shimmered in red satin dresses on the red carpet. Camryn Manheim defied the sizzling temperatures in gray flannel.

Manheim, star of The Practice, worked her way through the gridlock of celebrities and publicists outside the Shrine Auditorium in the long gray flannel dress and matching wrap by Ralph Lauren. “I like to be cutting edge,” Manheim said. “I put this on at 2:45 and I was here at 3:30. Time management.”

Newlyweds Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, a first-time Emmy nominee for Friends, drew screams from fans in the couple’s first major Hollywood appearance since their July wedding.

Aniston chose a long salmon satin gown and wore her long hair straight — a change from last year’s piles of curls.

But perhaps the biggest fashion statement of the evening came in the form of a gold ribbon. Many in the audience, including John Lithgow, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, wore the accessory to show support for the ongoing actors’ union strike against the advertising industry, which goes back into negotiations next week.

Linwood Boomer, who won for writing in a comedy series, was the first to make mention of the strike at the podium.

“I left my yellow ribbon at home,” he said. “But I’m totally with you guys, don’t give up.” ABCNEWS Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.