Members of the Academy of Television Arts &#038 Sciences failed to heed TV Guide Online's "Be kind, please don't rewind" plea when it came to the 2001 Emmy nominations — announced early yesterday in Los Angeles. Instead of rewarding new or previously overlooked faves such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ed, Gilmore Girls and Once and Again, voters gave their seal of approval to perennial — and creatively shaky — Emmy darlings like ER, The Practice, Will & Grace and (yikes!) the now-dead 3rd Rock from the Sun!

"It's just really depressing to see the same people and programs nominated just by rote," laments TV Guide critic Matt Roush. "As an institution, Emmy doesn't seem to be in the business of discovering and championing new talent or new shows."

Tom O'Neil, author of The Emmys (Perigee Books), believes the Academy has something against last year's freshman crop. "It was an unprecedented snub of the past new TV season," he sighs. "Gilmore Girls, Ed and Boston Public were shut out in the top categories. I thought at least [Ed's] Tom Cavanaugh would get nominated, or [Boston Public's] Chi McBride."

However, O'Neil points out that the 2000-01 TV season did not feature a hit along the lines of last year's big winner The West Wing — a show that was embraced by both critics and viewers. (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which scored a nod for star Marg Helgenberger, was more of a ratings smash than a critical one.) "We were spoiled with The West Wing last year and The Sopranos the year before that. And this year all of the critics' favorites like Gilmore Girls and Boston Public were all sleeper shows. They were not high on the ratings radar, so they didn't get high on the Emmys' radar."

The most glaring example of the Emmys' lack of originality is in the Outstanding Drama Series category, which is comprised of the same five shows as last year: ER, Law & Order, The Practice, The Sopranos and The West Wing. "I think it's hugely disappointing in a season where ER, Law & Order and The Practice all had — if not below par seasons — just par seasons," says Roush. "They certainly did not have exceptional seasons like Buffy, Once & Again, Gilmore Girls and, even for that matter, CSI — which was probably at least as good a show as some of those that got nominated."

Still, as Roush concedes, it's hard to argue with the dominant showings made by The Sopranos and The West Wing — which notched a combined 40 nominations. "They are both still the predominate quality dramas on television, and the nominations reflect that," he says, adding that West Wing will likely take out its mob rival for the second year in a row. "With The Sopranos, there was a perception — especially with the season finale — that it had [a disappointing year]. People are still bitching and moaning about it."

Among the West Wingers going for the gold are Rob Lowe and Bradley Whitford — both of whom were ignored last year. Some questioned Lowe's decision to pit himself opposite Martin Sheen in the lead actor race, as opposed to joining co-stars Whitford, John Spencer and Richard Schiff in the supporting ranks. "I think Rob merits supporting category contention," Roush admits. "But that would mean four actors from The West Wing would be fighting it out, and I can understand why he would try not to do that. And some episodes were built around him. But it does sort of fly in the face of [what's the norm] — that most everybody else who isn't the president is a supporting actor. They all support the president; that's the whole idea of the show. So it does seem kind of wrong." (For Lowe's take on the situation, see "Emmy Nominees React" Insider.)

Similarly, many believe that The Sopranos's lead actress nominee Lorraine Bracco belongs in the supporting slot alongside co-star Aida Turturro. But as Roush bemoans, there are bigger problems with that category this year. "Neither [Buffy's] Sarah Michelle Gellar or [Gilmore Girls's] Lauren Graham made the cut," he frets. "[CSI's] Marg Helgenberger is an asset to CSI, and it's almost hard to argue [with her nod], except that there are much more fully developed characters [out there]. It's not Marg's fault that her character is relatively uninteresting — uninteresting compared to Buffy losing [her] mother."

Meanwhile, with one exception (Malcolm in the Middle's welcome nomination in place of Friends), the comedy series finalists were also a repeat of last year. Competing with Malcolm is 2000's winner Will & Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier and Sex and the City.

Roush was hard-pressed to explain how 3rd Rock from the Sun's John Lithgow received a nomination over Ed's Cavanaugh. "As opposed to honoring somebody who has broken out this year and has a good run ahead of him, [the Academy] nominates somebody whose show basically limped off the air last year," he groans. "There's just no thought going into it."

Elsewhere, ABC's acclaimed two-parter, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, led the miniseries pack with an impressive 13 nominations. Roush was especially pleased to see that both Garlands — Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard — were recognized. "For both of them to get a nomination for playing Judy Garland at two different stages of her life is a great achievement," he says. "Tammy Blanchard was just... It's like a star is born."

Other nominations eliciting praise: Once and Again's Patrick Dempsey for best guest actor in a drama; ER's Maura Tierney for best supporting actress in a drama; Malcolm's Frankie Muniz for lead actor in a comedy; and Ally McBeal's Robert Downey Jr. for best supporting actor in a comedy.

That said, the simple fact remains: Considering the number of mind-boggling snubs, Emmy has given the TV industry very little to be excited about. "There's some really well-made shows that can't even get a hairstyling nomination," marvels Roush. "This is just nuts!"