After an unprecedented three-week delay due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 53rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be telecast live Sunday at 8 pm/ET on CBS. Producers promise a toned-down ceremony, one with "both laughter and tears that will help lift the country's spirits." And although some criticized the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for not canceling the ceremony altogether in light of the tragedy, there's growing sentiment that a Hollywood awards show may be just the escapist entertainment America needs right now. If you're among those ready to indulge in the frivolous, here's a quick recap of the major categories, followed by TV Guide critic Matt Roush's predictions as to what/who will and should win.
Law & Order
The West Wing (WILL and SHOULD win)
Like last year, this is a two-horse race between HBO's landmark Mob drama, the season's most-nominated series, and NBC's terrific political saga. The Sopranos, with a number of standout episodes, is overdue. But The West Wing's great advantage is its entertaining and emotional consistency, which hit new heights with peak performances by Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen. And unlike The Sopranos's much-debated anticlimactic finish, The West Wing's finale was a knockout.
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Martin Sheen, The West Wing (WILL and SHOULD win)
Andre Braugher, Gideon's Crossing
Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Rob Lowe, The West Wing
Sheen edges the great Gandolfini for his performance in increasingly powerful storylines: hiding a serious health condition, facing a skeptical press and defying an outraged wife as he plans to run for re-election. No one had better material or played it as well.Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesEdie Falco, The Sopranos (SHOULD win)Amy Brenneman, Judging AmyLorraine Bracco, The Sopranos (WILL win)Marg Helgenberger, CSISela Ward, Once and Again
Unless Ward repeats a win for the neglected Once and Again, this is a tough call between the Sopranos sirens. Can Bracco score in a supporting role for her one exceptional episode, in which she is the victim of a sexual assault? It's possible, and probable. But Falco deserves her second Emmy in the more complex role of a Mafia wife who's finally wising up to the psychic and moral cost of her pampered existence.
Malcolm in the Middle (WILL and SHOULD win)
Everybody Loves Raymond
Sex and the City
Will & Grace
Raymond has long deserved a best-comedy Emmy, but Malcolm is so innovative and hilarious that it should be able to overcome Emmy's bias against family-oriented shows.
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Frankie Muniz, Malcolm in the Middle (SHOULD win)
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace (WILL win)
John Lithgow, 3rd Rock from the Sun
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Not the strongest category. Grammer and Lithgow are three-time winners (yawn). Romano would be refreshing, though the similarly underrated McCormack is a more likely surprise winner for the flashback in which Will came out to Grace and himself while in college. The brilliant Muniz should win, but few expect Emmy voters to select a peer this precocious.
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle (WILL and SHOULD win)
Calista Flockhart, Ally McBeal
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
As Malcolm's lunatic lioness of a mother, Kaczmarek overwhelms her strong competition with a savage gift for outrageous physical comedy. The episode reliving her four childbirths is a tour de force of blistering slapstick and, deep down, enormous heart.
Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (SHOULD win)
Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City
Anne Frank (WILL win)
The choice is between ABC's first-class biographies: the wrenching account of Anne Frank's short life and the fascinating chronicle of Garland's celebrated though self-destructive career. I'd go for Garland, but voters are almost certain to honor Anne.
Wit (WILL and SHOULD win)
For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story
Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor
It boils down to two HBO standouts: Billy Crystal's lovingly nostalgic tribute to Yankees history in 61* and Mike Nichols's deft realization of the play Wit, about a proud scholar's unsentimental acceptance of her terminal cancer. Both are worthy, yet Wit is uniquely affecting.
Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Ben Kingsley, Anne Frank (WILL and SHOULD win)
Kenneth Branagh, Conspiracy
Andy Garcia, For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story
Gregory Hines, Bojangles
Barry Pepper, 61*
Though Pepper hit a homer with his moving portrayal of reluctant baseball superstar Roger Maris, Kingsley's heartbreaking evocation of Otto Frank, devoted father and the family's sole survivor, humanized a great tragedy.
Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Judy Davis, Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (WILL and SHOULD win)
Dame Judi Dench, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells
Hannah Taylor Gordon, Anne Frank
Holly Hunter, When Billie Beat Bobby
Emma Thompson, Wit