Stephen M. Silverman
September 19, 2004 11:40 PM

The Sopranos came out like gangbusters at the 56th annual Emmy ceremony Sunday night, as the HBO Mob drama finally scored TV’s top honor for outstanding drama series.

The show also picked up supporting actor trophies for Drea de Matteo and Michael Imperioli – though its leads, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, were bypassed in favor of Allison Janney of The West Wing and James Spader of The Practice.

Among comedy shows, Sex and the City and Frasier – which both concluded their successful runs this past season – won dual awards, for leading and supporting performers: Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon for Sex, and Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce for Frasier.

Despite its less-than-impressive ratings, FOX’s new critical darling Arrested Development was named best comedy series. Its Joe Russo and Anthony Russo won as best directors of a comedy series, and the show, which stars Jason Bateman, also won for comedy series writing.

As Development‘s freshly minted Emmy-winning creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, told the audience inside L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium (and the millions of people watching at home): “You know what? Just watch it.”

Proving the predictions correct, Parker ended a five-year Emmy drought and collected her Emmy by saying: “This is great punctuation of the end of a long sentence – I mean, a really great sentence.” Clutching her award, she thanked her cast and crew of six seasons, as well as New York City.

“This is very unexpected,” said Nixon, adding that she was sharing her award with costars Parker, Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall. “I’ve been acting for 25 years, since I was 12, and I hope to be acting for another 50, but I don’t think I’ll ever have another job I loved as much as this one. And I miss it.”

Grammer capped his 11 years on Frasier – and 10 nominations – with his fourth Emmy, for leading actor in a comedy series. “I’d like to take a minute to pay my respect to John Ritter and his family,” he said onstage, paying tribute to the fellow nominee who died last year. “He was a terrific actor and a nice guy, and he will be missed by everyone in this industry.”

The first Emmy of the night, for supporting actor on a comedy series, went to David Hyde Pierce, the high-strung Niles Crane of Frasier – his 11th nomination and fourth win. In accepting, Hyde Pierce said: “They say comedy in television is changing. And I want to say, when it changes back, call me.”

Janney, winning her fourth Emmy as lead actress in a drama series, invited fellow nominee Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) to join her onstage “because we’re both wearing beautiful green dresses.”

The first of the evening’s awards for The Sopranos – out of 20 nominations – went to supporting actor Michael Imperoli, who as Soprano nephew Christopher oversaw the killing of his fiancée Adriana, as played by Drea de Matteo.

Not long after Imperioli’s win, it was de Matteo’s turn at the podium. “I’ll thank you all later,” said de Matteo, who now costars on Joey, clutching her supporting actress statuette. “I’m going off now to have 10 drinks.”

The Sopranos also won for the writing of the episode “Long Term Parking,” the one in which Adriana was killed.

HBO’s all-star adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning AIDS drama, Angels in America – which received more nominations than any other single show this year, with 21 – was named best miniseries. Its headliners, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and director Mike Nichols, all won for their work – and all three received standing ovations.

“There are times when I, myself, think I am overrated,” joked Streep as the crowd laughed appreciatively. “But not today.”

Other Angels winners included supporting actor winner Jeffrey Wright (who also won a Tony for the same role when he played it on Broadway) and supporting actress Mary-Louise Parker. Kushner also won for his script.

In something of an upset, the reality-competition series Emmy went to The Amazing Race for the second year running, beating such ratings phenoms as American Idol, Survivor and The Apprentice. Something the Lord Made won as outstanding TV movie, over favorites The Reagans and a remake of The Lion in Winter.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won for its writing and was named best variety, music or comedy series. The satirical news program also won in the same two categories last year.

The HBO western Deadwood won for best direction of a dramatic series.

The evening’s liveliest acceptance speech came from stage veteran Elaine Stritch, who won the individual performance in a variety or music program Emmy for her HBO special Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. She thanked the man who got the money for the show, even though, she admitted, she never liked him.

The ceremony kicked off with host Garry Shandling undergoing a mock extreme makeover and then joking about the glut of reality shows. He said that when he now watches TV he looks forward to the commercials, so he can say: “Thank God – professional actors in a story.”

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