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Jack Bauer Sweeps Up

Los Angeles- The usual suspects ruled the night, but new blood drew the top Emmy honors in the end. “24,” Fox’s popular action series that stars Kiefer Sutherland as a terrorist-fighting antihero, and “The Office,” NBC’s mockumentary remake of the acclaimed British series, took home the major awards Sunday at the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, winning respectively for outstanding drama and outstanding comedy.

Before those final few awards, during which “24’s” Sutherland won best actor in a drama for the first time, the Emmys had favored the tried-and-true, despite some controversial rule changes instituted this year that were designed to shake up the awards.

The new rules relied on panels of Academy members to determine the final nominations after a larger vote had whittled down the field in the major categories. The hope was that the process would result in recognition for niche shows that had been overlooked in previous years.

Instead, newcomers to the major categories such as Denis Leary (“Rescue Me”) and Elizabeth Perkins (“Weeds”) were left out in the cold. Film actresses Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”) and Geena Davis (“Commander in Chief”) who had revived their careers on TV, came away empty-handed.

The shows that have been breathing new life into primetime television in recent years – such as “American Idol,” “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” despite its 11 nominations – were overlooked. And several of last year’s most-honored shows, such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” received few nominations and won no major awards. In contrast, at least five shows that won’t be returning, including “Will & Grace” and “Huff,” took home trophies.

Until the final moments of the show, if you had won before, the chances were you won again. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a best supporting actress Emmy winner from “Seinfeld,” won for best actress in a comedy for CBS’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” while Tony Shalhoub won his third Emmy for best actor in a comedy for “Monk” on USA Network.

Megan Mullally of NBC’s “Will & Grace” won her second Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy. Alan Alda, a multiple Emmy winner for “MASH,” won for best supporting actor in a drama for “The West Wing” on NBC.

And though critics thought CBS’ “The Amazing Race” had an off year, because of an unpopular family edition and time-slot switches, it trounced the juggernaut of “American Idol” for the fourth straight time for outstanding reality series.

Mariska Hargitay, who had been nominated three times for NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” finally won for best lead actress in a drama.

Host Conan O’Brien and the show’s writers brought their quirky sense of silliness to the proceedings, with bits that hit (Bob Newhart in a cylinder that O’Brien threatened would run out of air if the show ran past its allotted time), and missed (sometimes stilted dialogue between presenters). He kept the tone of the show light, with only slight references to the controversy surrounding the rule changes.

The film clip that started the show had O’Brien being forced to make his way through several different TV series on his way to the Emmys had the feel of a Billy Crystal Oscar opening. But it was clouded by a scene parodying “Lost” showing a plane crash, which many felt was in poor taste considering the crash hours earlier in Kentucky that had left 49 dead.

In winning for best comedy, “The Office” extends its status as a low-key winner. It is far below the popularity levels of “Two and a Half Men,” which was also nominated for best comedy. Like the canceled “Arrested Development,” which won six Emmys but was never able to attract a large audience, “The Office” is a critical favorite that has yet to attain wide popularity with audiences.

Both “24” and “The Office” have been hailed for their innovative upheavals of the traditional sitcom and episodic drama. But their victory did not demonstrate a wave of fresh vision or brave new directions that the redesigned nomination process was meant to achieve.

While Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” this year may have received most of the headlines, it was unable to unseat its parent show, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which took home its fourth consecutive Emmy for both best variety, music and comedy series, as well as the trophy for best writing. Even Stewart, in an apparent reference to Colbert’s show, quipped in his acceptance speech that he thought the Academy had “made a mistake.”

In fact, one of the evening’s few surprises came courtesy of a crooner who is often the butt of jokes. Musician Barry Manilow triumphed over his TV competition Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, David Letterman and Hugh Jackman in winning the award for individual performance in a variety or music program with his PBS special, “Barry Manilow: Music and Passion.”

HBO continued its traditional dominance in the movie categories. “Elizabeth I” was the night’s top winner with nine Emmys, including best miniseries and Helen Mirren as best actress. “The Girl in the Cafe” won three Emmys, including best made-for-television movie.

Showtime scored one of the night’s surprising upsets when Blythe Danner won her second consecutive Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a drama for “Huff,” which the pay cable network canceled in its second season. Danner, who took a few good-natured pokes at the cancellation, beat out popular favorites such as Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson of “Grey’s Anatomy” and Jean Smart of “24.”

HBO, which had the most nominations of any network, finally nabbed some awards gold for “Entourage,” which some insiders felt was overlooked in the major comedy categories. Jeremy Piven, who plays the foul-mouthed Hollywood agent Ari Gold, won for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy.

Heartfelt, sometimes tearful, emotion took center stage at various points during the evening. A tribute to late TV mogul Aaron Spelling, who died in June, included remembrances by three stars from his shows — Joan Collins (“Dynasty”), Stephen Collins (“7th Heaven”), and Heather Locklear (“Melrose Place”).

But the true surprise came when the three original “Charlie’s Angels” — Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith – strode on stage. The three had not appeared together on television since Fawcett departed the series following the first season in 1977. Fawcett teared up while holding her hands in a prayerful gesture, looked upward and said, “Thank you, Aaron.”

Another poignant moment came during a tribute to Dick Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2004. The segment included numerous clips of the legendary producer and host introducing future music superstars such as Madonna, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson on “American Bandstand.”

Simon Cowell of “American Idol” then introduced Clark, who was sitting behind a podium, making his first public appearance since last year’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Always the producer, Clark tried to cut short the audience’s standing ovation, point to his watch and warning them that the show might run long. Even with his slurred speech, he eloquently expressed his gratitude that his dream of being in show business had come true.

Over all, HBO was the big winner with a total of 26 Emmys, followed by NBC with 14, ABC with 11, Fox with 10, CBS with 9 and PBS with 8.

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