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It was clear the days of the Big Four networks dominating the Emmys were slowly coming to an end 20 years ago; however, despite cable networks starting to gain momentum (with two receiving their first major wins), NBC and CBS still made a strong showing at the 55th Emmy Awards on September 21, 2003. HBO came into the night with a strong 53 major nominations, while NBC had 38 and CBS had 28; in the end, HBO and CBS tied with eight majors awards each and NBC trailed with six. Garry Shandling opened the event with a comedic monologue, while numerous presenters, including Ellen DeGeneres, George Lopez, Conan O’Brien, Martin Short and Wanda Sykes, carried the rest of the show without a host. Read on for our Emmys flashback 20 years ago to 2003.
HBO claimed two spots in the Best Drama category, for “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” but NBC was the victor, with “The West Wing” becoming the second of four series to win this award four years in a row. Also in contention were “24” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” This was the first time in 11 years that “Law & Order” failed to receive a bid for Best Drama (it won once, in 1997); 20 years later, the beloved series still holds the records for most nominations in this category, and ties with Best Comedy nominees “M*A*S*H” and “Cheers” for the overall record.
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While “The Sopranos” lost its bid for Best Drama, it nearly swept the acting categories; “The West Wing” had a bid in each acting category and lost them all. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco each received their third and final Emmys for Best Drama Actor and Actress for their roles as Tony and Carmela Soprano. Other contenders for Actor were Michael Chiklis (“The Shield”), Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”) and Kiefer Sutherland (“24”), while Actress competitors included Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under”), Jennifer Garner (“Alias”), Marg Helgenberger (“CSI”) and Allison Janney (“The West Wing”).
“The Sopranos” also claimed a victory for Best Supporting Actor with Joe Pantoliano‘s win for his role as Ralph Cifaretto marking HBO’s first win in this category. His competition included his costar Michael Imperioli; “The West Wing” also had two nominees, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford. Victor Garber rounded out the category for his role on “Alias.”
CBS claimed a drama acting victory, with Emmy darling Tyne Daly winning her sixth statue, this time for Best Supporting Actress for “Judging Amy” (she had previously won in this category for “Christy” and had won Best Actress four times for “Cagney & Lacey”). The other nominees were Stockard Channing (“The West Wing”), Lena Olin (“Alias”) and Lauren Ambrose and Rachel Griffiths (“Six Feet Under”).
HBO also came into the night with strong potential for comedy wins, but a popular CBS sitcom finally got its statue in its seventh season. “Everybody Loves Raymond” beat out three series to which it had lost in previous years: “Friends,” “Will & Grace” and “Sex and the City.” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” filled the final slot.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” also dominated the acting awards in supporting, with Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts claiming victory for Best Supporting Comedy Actor and Actress. Garrett won over his sitcom dad Peter Boyle, as well as Bryan Cranston (“Malcolm in the Middle”), Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) and John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier”). Roberts beat out “Sex and the City” stars Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon, as well as Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”).
For the first time in Emmy history, the Best Comedy Actor award failed to go to one of the Big Four networks, with USA network receiving its first ever acting win. Tony Shalhoub prevailed for his portrayal of the quirky detective “Monk.” Also nominated were Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Matt LeBlanc (“Friends”), Bernie Mac (“The Bernie Mac Show”), Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”). Although McCormack lost, his costar had a historic win.
Debra Messing‘s victory for Best Comedy Actress made “Will & Grace” only the third TV show to have all its major actors win an Emmy (after “All in the Family” and “The Golden Girls”). McCormack, Hayes and Mullally had each won at least one Emmy in prior years. Messing triumphed over Jennifer Aniston (“Friends), who had won the year before, and Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond), who had won in 2000 and 2001, and Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”), who would go on to win the next year. The final nominee was Jane Kaczmarek, who received seven consecutive nominations for her memorable role as the mom on “Malcolm in the Middle,” but never won. At the time, she was married to Bradley Whitford, also a nominee that evening.
Shaloub’s triumph wasn’t the only first for a cable network; the Sci Fi channel not only received its first major nomination ever, but won Best Miniseries for the Steven Spielberg-produced “Taken.”
Best TV Movie also went to a cable production, with TNT’s “Door to Door” taking home that prize. In that biopic, William H. Macy portrays Bill Porter, a man with cerebral palsy who became a successful door-to-door salesman. Macy’s inspirational performance earned him Best Actor (Miniseries/Movie); he also won (with Steven Schachter) for writing. His acting contenders were four men who frequently found themselves on the award circuit at that time: Oscar winner Paul Newman, nominated for “Our Town,” would go on to win an Emmy two years later; Tom Wilkinson (“Normal”), who had a nice stretch of Emmy and Oscar nominations and would win an Emmy in 2008; James Woods (“Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story”), who had two prior Emmy wins; and Brad Garrett (“Gleason”), a double nominee who received his second Emmy for “Everybody Loves Raymond” that night.
Four of the five women up for Best Actress (Miniseries/Movie) were also well-acclaimed performers, with two former Oscar winners and one future Oscar winner in the mix. Maggie Smith won her first of four career Emmys to go with her two Oscar statues, for HBO’s “My House in Umbria.” Jessica Lange, up for “Normal,” was also a two-time Oscar winner, and would go on to win three Emmys over the next decade. Helen Mirren, a double nominee for “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” in this category and “Door to Door” in supporting, had yet to win her Oscar, but had two prior Emmy wins. Perennial nominee Helena Bonham Carter received her second of five career Emmy nominations for “Live from Baghdad,” but has yet to win. The final nominee was 21-year-old Thora Birch, who received her first ever Emmy nomination for “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.”
There were also five strong contenders for Best Supporting Actor (Miniseries/Movie), with Ben Gazzara winning on his fourth and final overall nomination, for “Hysterical Blindness.” His competition included Alan Arkin (“The Pentagon Papers”), John Malkovich (“Napoleon”), Chris Cooper (“My House in Umbria”), who had won an Oscar earlier that same year, and Peter O’Toole (“Hitler: The Rise of Evil:), who sadly never won an Oscar, but did win an Emmy in 1999 (“Joan of Arc”).
Best Supporting Actress (Miniseries/Movie) went to a prior Emmy recipient, with Gena Rowlands receiving her third career Emmy, for “Hysterical Blindness.” Her costar Juliette Lewis received her first, and to date only, Emmy nomination, while the other three women had each won at least two Emmys previously: Kathy Baker and Helen Mirren were both nominated for “Door to Door,” while Anne Bancroft received a bid for “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.”
Cher added the “E” to her “EGOT” achievements, with her win for Best Variety/Music/Comedy Special for “Cher: The Farewell Tour.” This victory made her just a Tony short of completing that goal.
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