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NETWORKS GO WANTING AS CABLE SHOWS GAIN EMMY HONORS

If anything proves how desperate the networks are to find a hit next fall, it's Thursday's announcement of the Emmy nominations.

Essentially, they were just another summer rerun. The only newcomer to make the list is Michael J. Fox of "Spin City," and he hardly qualifies. Perhaps voters in the Best Comedy Actor category thought he was still on "Family Ties."

To best illustrate the networks' problems, the most heavily nominated rookie series was "The Cape," a syndicated series that already has been canceled. It had three nominations, two for its music.

One thing is clear from the nominations: Voters watch too much pay cable.

HBO received 90 nominations to finish ahead of NBC by one and more than double ABC's 44 nominations. Fox received 19. How did it get that many? Well, 12 of them were for "The X-Files."

While HBO's total might be viewed as startling by some, the pay cable network plays by a different set of financial and creative rules that give its projects an advantage. Not that money always means success. Despite all the original movies that Ted Turner's TNT and TBS made, they received only a combined 11 nominations.

One of the more startling omissions was the failure of Fox's "Party of Five" to get one nomination despite last season's compelling story line featuring Bailey's (Scott Wolf) alcoholism.

Wolf's failure to be nominated as lead actor would be more outrageous if Andre Braugher of "Homicide" hadn't been bypassed as well. Braugher, who was nominated last season, apparently has only one more chance to be named Best Actor, as he confirmed to me last week that he plans to leave "Homicide" after this season.

Voters passed up Wolf's and Braugher's performances because they preferred Sam Waterston's controlled performance on "Law & Order." George Clooney of "ER" also was ignored, but he didn't have a juicy role this season because he was so busy filming "Batman & Robin."

The snubbing of Tom Fontana's "Homicide" -- which didn't get a nomination as Best Drama or a writing nomination -- illustrates how far apart voters and TV critics are.

Four days before the nominations were announced, the Television Critics Association, composed of more than 125 critics across the country, voted "Homicide" as Best Drama and gave Braugher an award for dramatic acting.

The association awarded Best Comedy to HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show," which received 16 Emmy nominations, including one as Best Comedy. Its star, Garry Shandling, was nominated for lead actor and writing. If he loses both, he could become known as the Susan Lucci of the prime-time Emmys. He's 0-for-13 so far. and the show is 1-for-30.

One of the "Sanders" nominations went to Ellen DeGeneres for her guest role as herself in "Ellen, Or Isn't She?" The episode spoofed all the hype surrounding the coming-out episode of "Ellen."

Not surprisingly, "The Puppy Episode" of "Ellen" received four of the show's five nominations, including ones for guest actress Laura Dern and the episode's writing. The failure of "Ellen" to get a nomination as Best Comedy was a mild surprise because the three-part lesbian story line was critically well-received.

Most critics probably were more surprised by the Emmy voters' shunning of "EZ Streets," a pretentious, nine-episode CBS series that was named Program of the Year by the critics' association. It received only one Emmy nomination, for its theme musical. I'm with the Emmy voters on this one. It also is easy to understand why NBC's "Friends" lost so many friends and received just one acting nomination (Lisa Kudrow).

Now let's look at more things to note about this year's Emmys, which will be carried by CBS on Sept. 14.

Buffalo Connection: "NYPD Blue" writer-producer David Milch was nominated in the drama writing category, which included two episodes of "Blue," two of "ER" and one "X-Files." Cheektowaga's Christine Baranski was again nominated as Best Supporting Actress in "Cybill."

"Frasier" Shocker: Of course, actors Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce were nominated, but incredibly the three-time Emmy champ as Best Comedy failed to receive one comedy writing award. "The Puppy Episode" of "Ellen," three episodes of "Larry Sanders" including the Ellen episode, and The "Yada Yada" episode of "Seinfeld" were nominated instead. The voters would show they have a sense of humor if Sanders' episode with Ellen won over "The Puppy Episode."

Hollywood's Family Values: Among the nominees were Adam Arkin and his dad, Alan Arkin, on "Chicago Hope." Christine Lahti for "Chicago Hope" and her director husband, Thomas Schlamme, for HBO's "Tracey Take On." Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld" and his wife, Anne Meara, for a guest spot on "Homicide." And Laura Dern ("Ellen") and her mother, Diane Ladd, who made a guest appearance on "Touched by an Angel."

"Just Be Yourself": It's great acting advice. Besides DeGeneres, David Duchovny was a double nominee for "The X-Files" and for playing himself on a "Sanders" show in which the obsessive amount of attention he devoted to Sanders frightened the talk show host. However, Jerry Seinfeld's run as a nominee playing himself ended. He'll have to console himself with his millions and the show's nine nominations.

Touched by a Trend: Hollywood has gotten a message, giving the same number of nominations -- five -- to the spiritual "Touched by an Angel" as it gave to "Ellen." Regulars Roma Downey and Della Reese were nominated, as well as guest stars Lou Gossett Jr. and Ladd.

"Odyssey" Is No Homer: NBC's miniseries "The Odyssey" received only four nominations. To put that in perspective, "Gulliver's Travels" won five Emmys in 1996.

Here's Why NBC and CBS Are Dropping a Movie Night: HBO had four nominations for Best TV Movie and Showtime the fifth in "Bastard Out of Carolina," which won the critics' association award. Anjelica Huston was nominated for directing "Carolina" and Christopher Reeve was nominated for directing one of HBO's nominated films, "In the Gloaming." No network film was nominated in the category.

Crime Pays: Armand Assante, whose performance in "The Odyssey" was ignored, received a nomination for playing the lead character in HBO's "Gotti." Joseph Mantegna and Kirstie Alley were nominated for the CBS miniseries "The Last Don."

Who Says TV is Slumming?: Feature film actor Meryl Streep (ABC's "First Do No Harm") and "Brassed Off" and "Trainspotting" star Ewan McGregor ("ER") both were nominated. McGregor starred in the hostage episode of "ER," which helped Julianna Margulies (Carol Hathaway) receive a nomination in the lead acting category.

Parting Gift: Sherry Stringfield's decision to leave the most popular drama on TV was forgiven by voters, who nominated her as Best Dramatic Actress for "ER," which received 22 nominations.

Toughest Category: It has to be outstanding animated program, where the nominees include "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill" on Fox and the Mother's Day episode of "Rugrats" on Nickelodeon.

And the Winner Must Be: Billy Crystal, who was nominated as host of last year's Academy Awards in a category that includes Bette Midler, Tracey Ullman, Bill Maher and George Carlin. If only Crystal were hosting the Emmys instead of Bryant Gumbel, they'd have a chance to be more fun.

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