When the house lights went down for commercial breaks during Sept. 21's Emmy Awards, the only illumination in L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium was from the cell phones springing open as industry honchos gossiped and arranged lobby meet-ups for drinks. At 8:05 L.A. time -- five minutes after the show was scheduled to end -- the Emmys went to one last commercial break before the final awards: Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Comedy Series. With James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Joe Pantoliano having won three of the four major dramatic-acting awards, everyone was predicting a ''Sopranos'' sweep. The lights went down, the cell phones lit up. ''I was about to call for my car,'' says ''West Wing'' executive producer John Wells. It's a good thing he stayed. ''And the winner is...The West Wing,'' declared William H. Macy. ''If you look at our faces when they announced the winner,'' says Wells, ''you can tell how shocked we were.''
They weren't the only ones. Coming off a year in which ''Wing'''s ratings dropped 22 percent and criticism of its story lines increased exponentially, creator Aaron Sorkin went out on an unexpected high note, picking up the Emmy just as his show begins its first season without him (Sorkin agreed to leave the show last May). Gushed ''Wing'''s Bradley Whitford: ''We feel drunk with good fortune. All these other nominated shows are so wonderful, it makes the fact that we've won this four years in a row stunning.'' Also surprised -- and clearly bitter -- was one HBO executive: ''The 'West Wing' won because the older, conservative Emmy voters are uncomfortable with 'The Sopranos'' content. Voters went with the safe choice, not the best.'' West Wing-er Allison Janney sees the award as ''a reaffirmation. It's a great tribute to Aaron and the four years he wrote the show.''
In another reaffirmation, ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' scored its first-ever best-comedy win -- but that was no shock to star Patricia Heaton. ''I thought this was finally going to be our year,'' says Heaton, who lost best actress to ''Will & Grace'''s Debra Messing. ''I'm disappointed about losing, but happy for the show.'' (Her costars Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts took home trophies.) The big evening-ending win also sparked debate over whether Raymond creator Philip Rosenthal would still want to end the show after this season, its eighth. ''We feel like we've explored all the material from our own lives,'' says Rosenthal, who insists that the Emmy has no bearing on such a move. ''But if we can come up with enough ideas for another season, then we'll do one.''
Other big winners included ''Monk'''s Tony Shalhoub (top inset), ''The Daily Show With Jon Stewart'', and the TNT original movie ''Door to Door''. But the most important accolades weren't given out during the Emmy telecast last Sunday. And we're not talking about the Creative Arts Emmys -- though we were dying to know who would win Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special, Non-prosthetic. (FYI: That went to HBO's movie ''Normal''.) We're referring, of course, to our own fete-fest, in which we toast and roast the 55th annual ceremony: