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Emmy Greats?, 06.05.03 ...

An open letter to the voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences:

It's that time of year again. The TV season is over, but the trade papers like Daily Variety are filled to bursting with For Your Consideration ads pushing various shows, actors, writers and directors for Emmy nominations.

You've done a better job of late when it comes to voting for the winners, but the nominations still feel like the same-old, same-old. I know a lot of you who work in the TV business don't have much time to actually watch TV, but it would be nice of you to think outside the box and throw a nomination or five to some newcomers, either shows and people that have been eligible in the past but snubbed, or ones in their first year of eligibility.

If you're having trouble filling out your ballot before the nominations are announced on July 17, here are some worthy candidates:

Vincent D'Onofrio of "Criminal Intent" for drama actor: If his show didn't have "Law & Order" at the start of its title, D'Onofrio would be a mortal lock for a nomination. But he was ignored last year and may be this year, too, despite delivering one of the most complicated, daring performances on TV as brilliant, possibly crazy Det. Bobby Goren.

Chi McBride of "Boston Public" for drama actor: McBride may have a bigger gripe than D'Onofrio, if only because "Boston Public" has been on the air longer. He's both helped and hurt by his writers, who have turned Winslow High into the most unrealistic school this side of Hogwarts -- which in turn makes the authority and realism McBride brings to the show that much more impressive.

Dennis Haysbert and Penny Johnson Jerald of "24" for drama supporting actor and actress: Speaking of making the implausible highly plausible, Haysbert and Jerald were handed a presidential coup story filled with enough plot holes to drive a Hummer through, but they made the audience believe that David and Sherry Palmer were caught in the middle of it and none too pleased to be there.

"Andy Richter Controls the Universe" for Outstanding Comedy: Emmy voters used to make a regular habit of throwing nominations to shows that were on the ratings margins ( "Hill Street Blues" ) or canceled outright ( "Cagney & Lacey," which was literally saved by its Emmy success). Those days appear to be over, unfortunately, but if ever a show could use some Emmy love, it's "Andy Richter," the wildly satiric office comedy that Fox buried with little promotion and an incompatible lead-in.

Zach Braff and John C. McGinley of "Scrubs" for comedy lead and supporting actor, respectively: If "Andy Richter" was the funniest show on network TV last year, "Scrubs" was a close second, and Braff (as naive, bumbling resident J.D.) and McGinley (as caustic Dr. Cox) were two big reasons why.

Larry Gilliard Jr. and Sonja Sohn of "The Wire" for drama supporting actor and actress: You could fill the supporting actor category several times over with "Wire" people and not have an undeserving nominee, but the series' best performance last year came from Gilliard, who was scorching as ambivalent drug dealer D'Angelo Barksdale. Sohn, the show's lone major female character, was absolutely convincing as a tough, respected woman in a backwards-thinking male profession -- much like CCH Pounder from "The Shield," who should also get a nod.

Cheryl Hines and Susie Essman of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for comedy actress and comedy supporting actress, respectively: Larry David deservedly gets most of the credit for the dark genius of "Curb," but every great comedian needs a great foil, and he has two in Hines (as Larry's passive-aggressive wife) and Essman (as the foul-mouthed spouse of Larry's manager).

Lauren Graham of "Gilmore Girls" for comedy actress: Graham deserves some kind of award just for the breath control necessary to recite the wordy "Gilmore" dialogue -- but she's quite funny and charming even while talking slowly.

Anthony LaPaglia of "Without a Trace" for drama actor: LaPaglia doesn't get a lot of credit for his work on a show that's heavy on procedure and light on characterization, but whenever he saw even a glimmer of dramatic daylight, he ran through it. Exceptional, understated work.

Lena Olin of "Alias" for drama supporting actress: Olin emerged from career limbo with a performance that was scarier, sexier and more layered than anything she had done in years. Jennifer Garner gets the big movie roles and magazine covers, but Olin was the coolest spy on TV.

Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos" for drama supporting actor: Joey Pants should have gotten a trophy for his work as a crazy mobster on "EZ Streets," but he was never even nominated. It's time to correct that mistake and recognize how funny and terrifying he was as the late Ralphie Ciffaretto. It's just too bad there's not an Emmy category for Outstanding Performance by a Hairpiece.

Wanda Sykes of "Wanda at Large" for comedy actress: Her sitcom wasn't very well-written, and most of the supporting characters were like wallpaper, but Sykes made it all funny, anyway.
Credit: The Star-Ledger

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