Emmy Awards Update

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.

NBC’s The West Wing took the lead in early returns at the Emmys on Sunday in a series of contests pitting the political drama against HBO’s The Sopranos.

White House Takes on Gangsters

The evening began with HBO’s mobster series The Sopranos and NBC’s behind-the-scenes look at Oval Office policy “wonks” battling to become the most honored show. Each had 18 nominations, including Best Drama.

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.”

In the first hour of the ceremony, before a member of The Sopranos came to the podium, West Wing had won eight awards. Richard Schiff, who plays the grim aide Toby Ziegler, won supporting actor awards. Series creator Aaron Sorkin won for writing, and Thomas Schlamme for directing. The show also collected four awards in technical categories.

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.

The Primetime Emmys celebrate some of the most popular programs, but the ceremony is oddly relegated to the back of the awards show heap as a ratings snoozer. Last year’s broadcast eked out some of the show’s lowest ratings in a decade, with 17 million viewers. Producers are hoping a revamped edition of the show will capture more viewers.

Taking a cue from longtime Oscar emcee Billy Crystal, Host Garry Shandling worked weekends pre-taping comedy bits and polishing his opening monologue.

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

In the days leading up to the show, producers acknowledged that a change was in order to keep the show vibrant.

“We’ve never had a host put so much effort and commitment into hosting the Emmys,” says executive producer Don Mischer.

Awards Mix With Politics

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

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