Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 08, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Three Emmy nominated actresses deserve the prize

Prime time Emmy Awards will be handed out this weekend, but for me, one of the highlights is already history: Jean Smart’s win for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series was announced earlier this week. Smart, ”Frasier” fans will remember, played faded high school royalty, once the most popular, unattainable girl in Dr. Crane’s class, whom Frasier — no longer a nerd, now a media success — attains in a night of bliss. Then a morning of horror follows: The beauty is a beast, a wreck without her coffee and cigs, screeching on the phone to her kids, and operating with a stunted worldview in which high school might have happened yesterday.

It was a divine performance–shrewish, ripe, funny — but then, Smart, former ”Designing Woman” that she is, excels at divinity in small roles. Just look what she did with the brief screen time she had opposite Bruce Willis in ”Disney’s The Kid,” playing a Southern belle who becomes a big time TV anchorwoman up north. And she stole the show in the underappreciated little film ”Guinevere” with the riveting, Oscar worthy speech she made as the bitter, sex starved mother of a coltish daughter involved with a much older man. Smart gives off an attitude of sexiness and wisdom that only comes with age, and it’s no surprise that the Emmy voters have rewarded the actress; it’s just a pity that Oscar voters (and movie casting agents) tend to overlook the zing and crackle of middle-aged babes.

Which is the perfect segue to cheer two other favorites of mine, Allison Janney and Stockard Channing, who are competing against each other as fellow cast members of ”The West Wing” in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. There’s a good possibility the prize will go to the late Nancy Marchand for her role as Livia on ”The Sopranos.” And I’m all in favor, since a little sentimentality is no vice when it’s in homage to a beautiful performance by a dying actress.

But if it’s not Marchand, please, O gods of the airwaves, give the statuette to Janney for the loneliness she lets peek from beneath the shield of snappy confidence worn by White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg. And let Janney, in her acceptance speech, share the honor with her professional sister Channing, who plays First Lady Abigail Bartlet, M.D. Like Janney and Smart, Channing makes even the smallest roles seem spacious — and makes the onscreen world safe for maturity.

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