The Time Warner-owned cable channel took home 16 Emmys at the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night -- more than the rest of the networks combined. Counting awards handed out in creative and technical categories at ceremonies on Sept. 12, HBO took 32 Emmys of 89 presented this year.
Fox was second with 10 Emmys overall, followed by NBC with eight. ABC and PBS had seven each.
"Angels in America," Tony Kushner's adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS in the 1980s, led the way for HBO with seven Emmys on Sunday, including Outstanding Miniseries. The show -- which had the most nominations of any show this year, 21 -- won 11 Emmys overall, counting creative and technical awards.
As he accepted a directing Emmy for "Angels in America," Mike Nichols pretty well summed up the theme of the evening.
"This couldn't have happened without HBO," he said.
HBO's crime-family drama "The Sopranos" took four Emmys -- including one that had eluded it in four previous nominations, Outstanding Drama Series. That honor had gone to "The West Wing" in each of the past four seasons, but NBC's White House drama narrowly escaped a shutout this time around, managing one trophy for Allison Janney, for lead actress in a drama series.
"The Sopranos" also won supporting actor and supporting actress Emmys for Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo, respectively, as well as a writing Emmy.
This year's awards were a final fling for three favorite comedies -- "Frasier," "Friends" and "Sex and the City." "Friends" came up empty, but the other two scored.
In its 11th and final season on NBC, "Frasier" picked up six Emmys -- including a fourth supporting actor award for David Hyde Pierce and a lead actor award for Kelsey Grammer. The show finished its run with 37 Emmys -- more than any other show in the history of prime time TV.
Grammer paid tribute to fellow nominee John Ritter of the ABC comedy "8 Simple Rules," who died suddenly just as the 2003-04 season was getting under way last fall. It was Grammer's fourth Emmy in 12 nominations for playing the character.
"'Frasier' was a gift in my life," said Grammer.
"Sex and the City" -- which has left the HBO schedule after six seasons -- had previously won for best comedy series, but had never won an acting Emmy. That changed Sunday when Sarah Jessica Parker won for lead actress in a comedy series, for her performance as sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw, and her co-star, Cynthia Nixon, won for supporting actress in a comedy series, for her performance as Miranda Hobbes.
"We're used to being nominated against each other," she said. "I feel like when one of us wins, we're all very excited."
In contrast to the long wait that Parker, Nixon and "The Sopranos" endured, Fox's freshman comedy "Arrested Development" came out on top right out of the box -- winning for best comedy series over a field that included previous winners "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Sex and the City" and "Will & Grace," and two-time nominee "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The show was also honored Sunday with Emmys for comedy series writing and directing, and won five Emmys overall.
James Spader won for lead actor in a drama series, for his performance as attorney Alan Shore in his first season as the star of ABC's legal drama "The Practice."
"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" won for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program. Stewart -- whose show has gained a reputation as one of the sharpest political commentary shows on TV -- was asked backstage about speculation that he might be taking over hosting duties on "Late Late Show," now that Craig Kilborn has left the CBS late night talk how.
"I can categorically tell you how false that is," said Stewart. "I am very happy where I am."
Stewart was nominated for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, but that trophy went to Elaine Stritch for her HBO show, "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" -- which also won for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special.
Host Garry Shandling got lots of material out of the networks' current reliance on reality TV programming. At one point he said he likes it when commercials come on, because he can see professional actors working.
The unscripted theme even afforded viewers something never before seen on network TV -- Shandling and "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano standing at adjacent urinals in a Shrine Auditorium men's room, talking about nothing in particular.
The staged bit was about as decorous as a moment like that can be, and about as risqué as the telecast got -- which is probably to be expected given the current climate of public impatience with questionable taste on the air.
The ceremony also contained very little discussion of politics, particularly considering the comparatively strong public interest in the current presidential election campaign.
In his acceptance speech, Kushner referred to his partner as his husband and said, "Some day we can get a legal marriage and you can make an honest homosexual out of me."
As he accepted the miniseries Emmy for "Angels in America," Nichols said: "The fight against AIDS isn't over yet,. We must do what we can for Africa."
Generally, though politics was not much more than a subtext at this year's Emmys.
"The Reagans" -- a controversial miniseries that was bounced off of CBS' prime-time schedule and picked up by Showtime in a political brouhaha last fall -- had seven Emmy nominations, and won for hairstyling. On the other side of the political spectrum, "Ike: Countdown to D-Day" -- produced by leading Hollywood conservative Lionel Chetwynd -- had six nominations and came away empty-handed Sunday.
The 56th Emmy awards may have brought a bit of cheer to conservatives who are upset with CBS News over -- among other things -- the current contretemps about the authenticity of documents featured in a report on President George W. Bush's military service. The network took home just two Emmys for the 2003-04 season.
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