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

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

Messing, nominated for leading comedy actress in Will & Grace accessorized her strapless red ball gown with new husband Daniel Zelman. She showed him off as much as other actresses displayed their borrowed million-dollar jewelry.

Manheim, star of The Practice, worked her way through the gridlock of celebrities and publicists outside the Shrine Auditorium in a 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 evning came in the form of a gold ribbon. Many in the audience, including John Lithgow 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.