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.
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.