Allison Hope Weiner
October 01, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The 56th Annual Emmy Awards kicked off inauspiciously and suspiciously like the 50th annual Emmy awards. And like the 51st…when Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce won again—his fourth time — for best supporting actor in a comedy. But then something miraculous happened: Awards started flowing to some truly deserving series and actors — Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Spader, the cast of the HBO miniseries Angels in America. By the time the Academy anointed freshman underdog Arrested Development best comedy series and four-time loser The Sopranos best drama series, the old coots at the Academy didn’t seem so bad. That’s why we’re in a (mostly) winning state of mind.

[Thumbs Up] HBO For a cable network that was barely a presence at the Emmys 10 years ago, HBO did amazingly well, netting 32 statues — three more than the combined haul of the six broadcast networks. Leading the way was Angels, which scored 11 awards — toppling the miniseries record set by Roots in 1977. The Sopranos muscled four statues out of the Academy, including awards for Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo. And with Sarah Jessica Parker’s and Cynthia Nixon’s wins, Sex and the City finally found some acting-category Emmy love. ”HBO raises the bar for all of television,” says producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who oversees the CSI franchise and reality show winner The Amazing Race. ”They do wonderful work and it’s important for everybody to keep up that quality.”

[Thumbs Down] BROADCASTERS Network executives must’ve been pretty hungover Monday morning. To add insult to HBO-inflicted injury, ABC couldn’t even get viewers to tune in to the show: The broadcast yielded the lowest Emmy ratings since 1990. Maybe HBO should air the awards next year.

But NBC TV president Jeff Zucker shows no concern about HBO’s triumph. ”We’re in two different businesses,” he insists. ”The networks are not in the movie and miniseries categories, so of course [HBO is] going to dominate those.” That didn’t stop other executives from trotting out hackneyed excuses. ”This is becoming the cable awards,” grouses Viacom copresident Les Moonves, who oversees CBS. ”That’s one thing [the broadcast networks] have to look at.”

But the guy who dominated the evening, Angels playwright and Emmy winner Tony Kushner, doesn’t think the networks should acknowledge defeat just yet. ”The limitation that the networks are dealing with is the supposed tyranny of advertising. But advertisers will [be] on any show that’s popular,” he says.

[Thumbs Up] ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Speaking of popular, as far as ratings go, Fox’s Arrested Development can’t, well, get arrested. But the quirky, critically beloved sitcom — which barely got renewed for a second season — snagged three awards. Series creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who offered to sing his acceptance speech when the orchestra tried to play him off, credits an unlikely muse: ”The Sopranos was a great inspiration. This show tries to emulate their quality of storytelling.” But can Arrested successfully emulate The Sopranos‘ ratings? Emmy kudos occasionally help a fledgling show, like ABC’s The Practice, but Arrested‘s post-Emmy bump won’t be measured until its second season premieres Nov. 7. We’ll have to wait and see if viewers take a cue from Hurwitz: ”Let’s watch it!”

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