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'Sex' Sets Emmy Mark for Cable

Cable broke through a glass ceiling at the 53rd annual Emmy Awards when Home Box Office's
Sex and the City
won the award for best comedy series.

Sex's
victory on Nov. 4 marked the first time a made-for-cable series has won in either the coveted best comedy or best drama categories.

And that broadcast bias wasn't the only thing working against the show, said Tom O'Neil, co-author of a book on the Emmys. Voters prefer sentimental series — and shows produced in Los Angeles rather than New York.

"Before there's always been an assumption that you couldn't win [as a cable series]," Sex
producer Darren Star said backstage. "This proves you can."

The series' writers attributed their Emmy victory to an attempt to be darker and more complicated in tone.

HBO's other monster hit, The Sopranos, was once again beaten in the best drama category by NBC's The West Wing. But stars Edie Falco and James Gandolfini won in the lead acting categories.

Backstage, Gandolfini's win was considered a bit of an upset. People who watched his nomination tape — in which his character, Tony Soprano, spends the hour assaulting his mistress — called the submission weak compared to the episode submitted on behalf of Martin Sheen.

West Wing
cast member Bradley Whitford said he was surprised the HBO show didn't win best drama this year.

"The Sopranos
is a great show, and they didn't win last year, and there seems to be affection for both shows," he said. "Most of our cast and crew watch and enjoy The Sopranos."
Falco said Gandolfini and show creator David Chase were no-shows because the series will begin production soon. East Coast-based cable stars scoffed at reports their fellows were fearful of flying.

"You stand more of a chance of getting hit by a New York bus right now" than being a target of terrorists, said Sex
star Kim Cattrall. Two of her co-stars, Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon, didn't attend because they are acting in plays in New York.

Falco said she wouldn't have attended the show if it had been held on its first rescheduled date, Oct. 6. The star said her "internal compass" said it was just too soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Writers for both HBO shows said they are still trying to figure out how to acknowledge the impact of the terror attacks on the lives of their New York characters. Scribes for The Sopranos
noted that their series won't debut new episodes until next September, though. By then, there will be the distance of a year.

Attendees at the award show were subjected to extraordinary scrutiny to get within blocks of the Shubert Theater in Los Angeles. Cars were first searched by police officers, then a private security firm at another stop checked undercarriages for bombs. Traffic crept one block every 90 minutes. As showtime neared, some performers bailed out of their limousines and walked the rest of the way.

Those who actually entered the theater had to pass through metal detectors, all under the watchful eyes of police sharpshooters on nearby buildings. The road behind the Century Plaza Hotel, where the post-show "unity dinner" was held, remained open but was accessible only by slaloming through concrete barricades.

Bryce Zabel, president and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, said the organization came close to canceling the whole event. They decided to go ahead on Nov. 4 despite the prospect of head-to-head competition with the seventh game of Major League Baseball's World Series.

Emmy officials gambled that they'd have the night to themselves, as statistics show that only one in six World Series last the full seven games. They lost, and Emmy broadcaster CBS was decisively beaten in the ratings by Fox's New York Yankees-Arizona Diamondbacks telecast.

Zabel expressed annoyance that Fox Sports reported Emmy winners during a game that aired live, providing spoilers to West Coast viewers for whom the CBS telecast was tape delayed. That likely cost CBS viewers during the crucial November sweeps.

The Emmys had not conflicted with a major sports event since 1960, when the ceremony went up against a Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson heavyweight title bout. Emmy didn't have to fight for viewers back then, as the bout was only on radio.

Overall, HBO won 16 Emmys during the two ceremonies (Sunday and Sept. 8's creative arts awards), which tied it with NBC.

Other statues were awarded to productions on Bravo (three for Cirque du Soleil's Dralion), Discovery Networks (three), Sci Fi Channel (two), Turner Network Television (2) and A&E Network, American Movie Classics, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, one each.