September 19, 2004
After four years, has America had enough of this president? By now, you’re familiar with the story: Many people didn’t know what to expect after his 2000 victory, but a national tragedy in 2001 galvanized the nation behind him.
Since that time, however, his all-time high approval ratings have been slipping. Critics say it started with his decision to take out a certain Middle East despot linked to a terrorist plot on U.S. soil. That mission, while successfully completed, led to a series of unforeseen consequences.
Meanwhile, the president also has had to confront a series of political and family problems — from defending an embattled vice president to dealing with his own unruly daughters.
So the question this fall is: Have voters had enough?
OK, if you haven’t figured it out by now, the president referred to isn’t George W. Bush, but rather Josiah ‘‘Jed’’ Bartlet of NBC’s "The West Wing," which has won the Emmy Award for television’s best drama for four consecutive years.
That streak is in jeopardy at tonight’s 56th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.
Once the critical darling of network television, "The West Wing" — which won a record nine Emmys for its debut season — has slumped. After receiving a total 58 nominations in its first three seasons, it received 15 last year and 12 this year.
Critics — the TV, not political, type — have complained about "The West Wing’s" ever-morecontrived story lines for the past two seasons. And with last summer’s departure of creator Aaron Sorkin, who wrote most of the show’s mile-a-minute dialogue and lump-in-the-throat moments, even die-hard viewers began abandoning the series.
Still, ‘‘The West Wing’’ has proved it won’t be easy to dismiss, at least as far as Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters are concerned.
Many TV watchers were surprised in 2002, when a declining "West Wing" beat HBO’s favored "Six Feet Under" for best drama. And last year, HBO’s "The Sopranos" was considered a shoo-in to finally unseat the NBC drama.
But this may be ‘‘The Sopranos’ ’’ year. With more nominations (20) than any other series, coming off a stellar season and carrying a chip on its shoulder from not winning last year, the mob drama is poised to sweep all four acting awards in drama, as well as finally unseat ‘‘The West Wing.’’
Here’s a look at the races for this year’s top awards:
Nominees: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS); "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS); "The Sopranos" (HBO); "24" (Fox); "The West Wing" (NBC).
Analysis: After two seasons of running on fumes, ‘‘The West Wing’’ appears to have finally run out of gas. Last season’s constitutional crisis and the car-bombing of Admiral Fitzwallace (John Amos) only showed how desperately the show needed Sorkin’s unsteady yet talented hand to hold things together.
At the same time, "The Sopranos," in which quality seems directly proportional to the body count, turned in a season that exceeded even its own routine excellence. Two deeply personal ‘‘hits’’ — Tony’s (James Gandofini) reluctant murder of his beloved cousin (Steve Buscemi) and Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) decision to kill his fiancee (Drea de Matteo) — seal a long-deserved victory for the series.
Should win: "Sopranos"
Will win: "Sopranos"
Nominees: "Arrested Development" (Fox); "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO); "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); "Sex and the City" (HBO); "Will & Grace" (NBC).
Analysis: By nearuniversal acclaim among TV critics, ‘‘Arrested Development’’ is not only the best new show of the 2003-04 season, but also the best overall comedy. But TV watchers have yet to agree. Perhaps the ratingschallenged show about an imprisoned real estate tycoon’s dysfunctional family simply has too many fine cast members — 10 in the family, plus several nonfamily (including recurring guest roles by Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli and Carl Weathers) — for the uninitiated to catch up with.
That should open the door for voters to honor ‘‘Sex and the City,’’ which hasn’t picked up a best comedy Emmy since 2001, for its final season.
Should win: "Arrested Development"
Will win: "Sex and the City"
BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
Nominees: James Spader, "The Practice" (ABC); James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos" (HBO); Kiefer Sutherland, "24" (Fox); Martin Sheen, "The West Wing" (NBC); Anthony LaPaglia, "Without a Trace," CBS.
Analysis: This year should be a runaway for Gandolfini, who’s won this award in three of the past four years for playing therapy-ridden mafia patriarch Tony Soprano, who deals with as many problems in his real family as his organizational one. His only real competition is the surprising Spader, who stepped into the departing Dylan McDermott’s shoes on ‘‘The Practice’’ and pulled off the seemingly impossible: Making the David E. Kelley-less ABC show a hit again (it spins off as ‘‘Boston Legal’’ this fall).
Should win: Spader
Will win: Gandolfini
BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
Nominees: Jennifer Garner, "Alias" (ABC); Amber Tamblyn, "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS); Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC); Edie Falco, "The Sopranos" (HBO); Allison Janney, "The West Wing" (NBC).
Analysis: Janney won for supporting actress in 2000 and 2001 before moving up to win best actress in 2002 for her doomed romance with a Secret Service agent (Mark Harmon). Unfortunately, she suffers from ‘‘West Wing’s’’ general demise of the past two seasons, locking up a second straight win for ‘‘The Sopranos’ ’’ Falco, who courageously left her philandering on-screen husband, only to take him back at season’s end.
Should win: Falco
Will win: Falco
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Nominees: Victor Garber, "Alias" (ABC); Brad Dourif, "Deadwood" (HBO); Michael Imperioli, "The Sopranos" (HBO); Steve Buscemi, "The Sopranos" (HBO); John Spencer, "The West Wing" (NBC).
Analysis: A two-man race between Imperioli and Buscemi. The former’s growing resentment about working for Tony and his decision to let his crew murder his fiancee make Imperioli more deserving, but Emmy voters have shown a propensity for one-season guest stars who meet grisly deaths (such as 2003 winner Joe Pantoliano and Buscemi). The only question here is whether Imperioli and Buscemi will split the vote, allowing Spencer, a 2002 winner, to sneak away with a victory.
Should win: Imperioli
Will win: Buscemi
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Nominees: Robin Weigert, "Deadwood" (HBO); Tyne Daly, "Judging Amy" (CBS); Drea de Matteo, "The Sopranos" (HBO); Janel Moloney, "The West Wing" (NBC); Stockard Channing, "The West Wing" (NBC).
Analysis: Weigert introduced one of last season’s most intriguing characters — the foul-mouthed, simple-minded Calamity Jane — on HBO’s newest drama, although her prominence in story lines disappointingly waned after the midseason death of Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine). But after watching her Adriana Le Cerva on the edge of disaster all season on ‘‘The Sopranos’’ — from her unconsummated flirtation with Tony to her ulcer-inducing dealings with the FBI to her shocking murder in the snowy woods — it’s hard to argue that De Matteo isn’t a deserving choice.
Should win: Weigert
Will win: De Matteo
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Nominees: Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO); John Ritter, "8 Simple Rules" (ABC); Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier" (NBC); Matt LeBlanc, "Friends" (NBC); Tony Shalhoub, "Monk" (USA)
Analysis: Based solely on performance, this category is no contest. Shalhoub’s defective detective wins by a mile for the second consecutive year. But if Hollywood’s overreaction to Ritter’s tragic death is any indication, Emmy voters will posthumously award him an honor that no one expected him to win — ever — while he was alive.
Should win: Shalhoub
Will win: Ritter
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Nominees: Patricia Heaton, "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); Jennifer Aniston, "Friends" (NBC); Bonnie Hunt, "Life With Bonnie" (ABC); Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox); Sarah Jessica Parker, "Sex and the City" (HBO).
Analysis: With last year’s winner, Debra Messing of "Will & Grace," not even nominated, this category is wide open. Heaton (2000 and 2001) and Aniston (2002) are past winners, but neither had a stellar season. Look for Parker to edge Aniston in a sentimental vote between just-concluded series.
Should win: Heaton
Will win: Parker
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Nominees: Jeffrey Tambor, "Arrested Development" (Fox); Brad Garrett, "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); Peter Boyle, "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); David Hyde Pierce, "Frasier" (NBC); Sean Hayes, "Will & Grace" (NBC).
Analysis: Another category loaded with past winners: Hyde Pierce (2000), Hayes (2001) and Garrett (2002 and 2003). Robert Barone’s marriage played prominently in ‘‘Everybody Loves Raymond’s’’ season, giving Garrett a slight edge to three-peat.
Should win: Garrett
Will win: Garrett
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Nominees: Doris Roberts, "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); Kim Cattrall, "Sex and the City" (HBO); Kristin Davis, "Sex and the City" (HBO); Cynthia Nixon, "Sex and the City" (HBO); Megan Mullally, "Will & Grace" (NBC).
Analysis: Let’s see. Last year’s winner? Roberts. The year before? Roberts. The year before that? Roberts. Let’s really go out on a limb here.
Should win: Roberts
Will win: Roberts
Nominees: ‘‘The Amazing Race’’ (CBS); ‘‘American Idol’’ (Fox); ‘‘The Apprentice’’ (NBC); ‘‘Last Comic Standing’’ (NBC); ‘‘Survivor’’ (CBS)
Analysis: C’mon, when was the last time The Donald didn’t get something he wanted?
Should win: ‘‘The Amazing Race’’
Will win: ‘‘The Apprentice’’
By network: HBO (124), NBC (64), CBS (44), ABC (33), Fox (31)
By show: HBO’s ‘‘Angels in America’’ (21), HBO’s ‘‘The Sopranos’’ (20)