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Doing the Emmy math

The heated debate over the final scene of HBO's "The Sopranos" apparently won't end until at least Sept. 16 -- Emmy night.
That's because the final episode, which ended with a blank screen that forced viewers to guess if anything happened to Tony Soprano, was nominated Thursday for outstanding writing of a drama series.

The episode, written by series creator David Chase, is competing with two other memorable "Sopranos" episodes -- one in which Tony (James Gandolfini) squeezed the life out of an injured Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and another in which A.J. (Robert Iler) attempted suicide in the family pool.
The other two writing nominees include the brilliant season finale of ABC's "Lost" and an episode of the Sci Fi Channel series, "Battlestar Galactica." But it would be almost as big a shock as the final ambiguous scene in "The Sopranos" if one of its episodes didn't win.
The 15 nominations for the final season of the mob drama give it 111 nominations over its eight-season run, nine fewer than all-time series leader "ER." The number of nominations, which include ones for actors Gandolfini, Imperioli, Edie Falco, Aida Turturro, Tim Daly and Lorraine Bracco, illustrate that there is no debating how Emmy voters felt about the glorious final season.
But there are plenty of other things to debate about the nominations -- which include several repeaters but at least resulted in freshmen series "Ugly Betty" (11 nominations), "30 Rock" (10), "Heroes" (8) and "Brothers & Sisters" (3, including ones for Sally Field and Rachel Griffiths) getting their due. Among the things to debate:
Will HBO's Emmy Supremacy End? Once again, the pay-cable network led with 86 nominations. But if you take away the 15 for "The Sopranos," HBO would have only been one ahead of ABC and two ahead of NBC. Additionally, "Entourage," which received seven nominations including one for best comedy, is the only other continuing HBO scripted show to get a nomination. "Big Love" was totally ignored. On the other hand, for all the attention that rival Showtime is getting for its improved series, "Weeds" is the only one to get significant nominations for actresses Mary Louise-Parker and Elizabeth Perkins.
Did "Friday Night Lights" Deserve Better? NBC's poignant drama received two minor nominations despite widespread critical acclaim. It is tough to break into the drama category, but "Lights" deserved to beat the intentionally absurd "Boston Legal" or the unintentionally absurd "Grey's Anatomy."
Who Says Comedy Is Dead? The freshman comedy set at a late-night show, "30 Rock," received 10 nominations, including acting and writing ones for creator Tina Fey. Unfortunately, it is in the same category as the hourlong "Ugly Betty," which isn't a traditional comedy entrant.
Last year's winner, NBC's "The Office," received nine nominations, including ones for Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson and Jenna Fischer. "Scrubs" was mostly out of luck again, but at least its musical show got three nominations.
Was "Wounded Knee" That Good?: The well-meaning HBO movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" impressed the voters more than critics. It received 17 nominations, which is as many as any made for a television movie in history. But in one poll of critics, "Bury" was named one of the worst movies or miniseries of the year.
Can "24" Recover? A year after being named best drama, the Fox series was ignored in the category after a devastatingly bad season. But they can't kill Jack Bauer. Lead actor Kiefer Sutherland, who won last year, got the nomination that belonged to "Friday Night Lights" star Kyle Chandler.
Can Alec Win Despite Personal Problems? Alec Baldwin's nomination for "30 Rock" as best comedic actor was a minor surprise after the public embarrassment that followed the release of an angry telephone call to his daughter. He's unlikely to win in a very tough category in which Carell and three-time winner Tony Shalhoub ("Monk") are the favorites.
Was a Message Being Sent to Isaiah? The decline in the quality of "Grey's Anatomy" wasn't blamed on the supporting cast. Katherine Heigl, Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh, T.R. Knight and guest stars Kate Burton and Elizabeth Reaser were all nominated. Isaiah Washington, who was fired, and series leads Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo were ignored.
An Industry Vote for "The Starter Wife"? The recent USA Network miniseries about a wife divorced by a Hollywood big shot received 10 nominations -- as many as "Grey's Anatomy." Its ratings dropped weekly, which reduced talk about it becoming a regular series. Debra Messing, who played the wife, and Judy Davis, who played her addicted friend, were nominated.
Which Newcomer in a Series Will Win?: The lengthy list of first-time nominees includes Daly ("The Sopranos"), Kevin Dillon ("Entourage"), Minnie Driver ("The Riches"), Jenna Fischer ("The Office"), Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother"), Wilson ("The Office"), Vanessa Williams, Judith Light and America Ferrera of "Ugly Betty," Heigl and Knight of "Grey's" and Masi Oka of "Heroes." There's no debating they are all easy to root for.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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