September 23, 2002 01:00 PM

It took eight seasons, but Emmy finally recognized “Friends” as TV’s best comedy at Sunday’s 54th annual awards.

“It was our time maybe,” costar Matt LeBlanc, 35, said backstage at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, the Associated Press reports.

LeBlanc and Matthew Perry lost the lead actor in a comedy series Emmy to first-time winner Ray Romano, but Jennifer Aniston took the lead actress honors for playing the pregnant Rachel last season. (She previously had competed, and lost, in the supporting category.)

“Surreal,” is how Aniston, 33, speaking to Katie Couric backstage with her costars surrounding her, described winning. “It’s an amazing feeling. You can’t really explain it, because you couldn’t have one person up there without the others.”

As for Romano, who finally got an Emmy on his fourth nomination, the Hollywood Reporter quotes him as saying backstage, “I’m not making it up when I tell you it’s great and I appreciate it.”

Despite an impressive 23 nominations, HBO’s “Six Feet Under” took home only one major award, for its director, Alan Ball. Its chief rival, NBC’s “The West Wing,” won four awards, including its third consecutive as best drama series and those for actors Allison Janney, John Spencer and Stockard Channing — who also won an award for playing the mother of the hate-crime victim in the NBC movie, “The Matthew Shepard Story.”

“I didn’t think I would win, I honestly didn’t,” Channing, 58, said backstage. “I just assumed I’d smile and be gracious and would be perfectly happy and used to doing that. I’ve done that before and was getting pretty good at it.”

The lead actor in a drama series honor, which could have gone to Martin Sheen of “West Wing” or even to the newcomers of “Six Feet Under,” instead went to Michael Chiklis of FX’s “The Shield.”

“It vindicates us tremendously,” Chiklis, 39, said backstage. “I always said from the beginning if this were something vacuous and shocking for shock’s sake, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Conan O’Brien, 39, served as host of Sunday’s ceremony, scoring raves for a hilarious opening segment shot at the Osbournes’ house — not to mention a “love scene” featuring O’Brien, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Garry Shandling.

• For a list of the major winners, check out’s Emmy tally.

•’s complete Emmys package.

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