By all standards, it was this close to a perfect Emmys night, or at least as close as the Emmys might ever be to getting it right.
The most deserving people were winning, great shows and performances were being rewarded and then, in one horrifying moment, these seven words sent a dark cloud over the entire proceedings:
“And the Emmy goes to James Spader.”
Now, I have nothing against Spader personally. For all I know, he might be a great guy, a terrific buddy to hang around with, watch ball games and/or drink a bottle of wine, but when it comes to Emmy, the mere thought that he would win over James Gandolfini for Gandolfini’s final and possibly best season of “The Sopranos” sends shivers up the spine of anyone who gives a damn about television.
Spader’s win for best actor in a drama sent the crowd at the Shrine Auditorium into a sense of disbelief, much like the reaction Spader had as well when he reached the stage. Even he knew a crime had been committed.
“I really thought anybody but myself,” Spader said in assessing his chances to win. “To be fair, everyone who was nominated was deserving but with it being James’ last season on ‘Sopranos’ and Hugh Laurie is due for one of these. And I told Kiefer (Sutherland) that I use him as an example as the hardest worker of all of us. He’s in every scene and every frame. It could’ve been anybody but me.”
Spader must be super impressive in his episodes submitted because he has now won three times — the same as Gandolfini — each year that he’s been nominated.
Let that sink in your head for a bit: James Spader has won the same amount of Emmys for male lead in a drama as James Gandolfini. And the TV Academy wonders why some question the validity of the awards.
But if we can put that giant miscue aside, the rest of the winners were certainly wise and worthy choices, maybe none more so than “30 Rock” and Ricky Gervais, two underdogs who weren’t given slim chances for pulling an upset.
There’s no direct correlation between Emmy wins and ratings — feel free to ask “Arrested Development” folks if you don’t believe me — but this should help. And a show as good as “30 Rock” isn’t too proud to ask for all the help it can get.
To see Gervais comedically joust with the likes of Stephen Merchant on a weekly basis was pure joy (not to mention his hilariously uncomfortable sparring sessions with the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Ian McKellen and David Bowie), and kudos here to the Academy for acknowledging Gervais when very few members watched the six-episode HBO series when it aired last year.
As for the big prize of the night, even though voters mistakenly catapulted Spader over Gandolfini, they had the smarts to end the run of “The Sopranos” with best drama. The moment felt like it lacked any type of surprise, but that’s actually a good thing. Just because we expect something to happen doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.
Amazing run for 'Amazing Race'
For best reality show, “The Amazing Race” juggernaut continues to mow down any competition that dares to stand in its way. Winning for the fifth time in a row, the series is an awards express train, even running over “American Idol.”
Obviously, with both “Amazing Race” and “30 Rock” winning, it means that voters aren’t equating quality with ratings, and that allows for the best shows and actors to be acknowledged, even though they may not be seen by the largest viewing audience.
As irritating as it was seeing Spader defeating Gandolfini, I don't feel the same injustice was being bestowed upon Edie Falco, Gandolfini’s on-screen wife. She’s also won three times before but wasn’t a central figure in this last season and voting her as top drama actress — based not on her work from this season but as a series-long appreciation — would’ve been wrong.
Sally Field was a deserving choice in a close race, especially because she brought gravitas to the role as the matriarch in “Brothers & Sisters.” In her speech, she gave a shout out and words of encouragement and solitude to all the mothers who have seen their sons and daughters to fight a war and then never come back.
If mothers ruled the world, there would never be war, she exclaimed. Perhaps.
Unfortunately, much of the fiery — and some say political — aspects of the speech were censored, so at-home viewers didn’t get the full force of Field’s anti-Bush Administration feelings. But the audience, through its raucous applause, liked it, they really liked it.
Emmy finds itself at a distinct disadvantage versus Oscar because many of the same shows and actors are nominated year after year and there’s this sense of déjà vu. And while there were a few winners we’ve seen before — Helen Mirren, Jeremy Piven (both deserving but it would be nice to see a change) — what made these Emmys feel a bit fresher is that new blood was recognized.
“30 Rock,” Gervais, America Ferrera for “Ugly Betty” and Terry O’Quinn of “Lost” can all now classify themselves as Emmy winners.
Next year, if we’re lucky, there’ll be a new batch and the wealth will be spread.
Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor for Variety. He can be reached at email@example.com.