Voting for TV's best

Published: Friday, July 9 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

There's one major problem with most of the awards shows honoring television, up to and including the prestigious Emmys themselves -- a lot of those who vote don't actually watch a lot of TV. Those actually involved in putting shows on the air don't have a lot of time to watch other people's shows, and a lot of the actors, writers and producers insist that they just don't watch TV.

Then there's the "pop" awards -- presentations like the People's Choice Awards and the new TV Guide Awards -- that rely on polls or mail-in votes from the public. Not that the public's opinions aren't valid, but most of your average viewers haven't seen more or less everything that's available across the range of TV programming.Which is why, I would humbly submit, the annual Television Critics Association Awards may be the most accurate reflection of what's good on TV today. Not that all critics (including yours truly) are so smart, but because it's our job to watch at least a little bit of just about everything. By virtue of that fact, we do, perhaps, have a better idea of where things fall in the range quality.

At any rate, members are voting for the upcoming TCA Awards, selecting winners from nominees selected by association members. TCA members are allowed to vote for zero, one or two nominees in each category, which are:

DRAMA: "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC); "Law & Order" (NBC); "NYPD Blue" (ABC); "The Practice" (ABC) and "The Sopranos" (HBO).

With the exception of "Homicide," which did not have a particularly good season, all are deserving. I'll take two in this category -- the superlative "Practice" and the surprisingly good "Sopranos."

DRAMA/INDIVIDUAL: David Chase (creator/writer/executive producer, "The Sopranos"); Dennis Franz (actor, "NYPD Blue"); James Gandolfini (actor, "The Sopranos"); David E. Kelley (creator/writer/executive producer, "The Practice"); Camryn Manheim (actress, "The Practice"); and Dylan McDermott (actor, "The Practice").

Again, all are deserving. But, in the interest of some consistency, I'll go with Chase and Kelley.

COMEDY: "Ally McBeal" (Fox); "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS); "Friends" (NBC); "Sports Night" (ABC); "Will & Grace" (NBC)

"Ally McBeal"? It used to be a good drama with comedy -- now it's a weird comedy with drama. "Sports Night" could also have been nominated as a drama. "Raymond" and "Will & Grace" are both deserving, but the single funniest show on television this season, hands down, has been "Friends."

COMEDY/INDIVIDUAL: Calista Flockhart (actress, "Ally McBeal"); Kelsey Grammer (actor, "Frasier"); Matt Groening (creator/executive producer, "The Simpsons" and "Futurama"); Sean Hayes (actor, "Will & Grace"); Megan Mullally (actress, "Will & Grace"); Ray Romano (actor, "Everybody Loves Raymond")

Groening is certainly less familiar to audiences than all those actors, but his contribution to TV comedy is enormous. Not only is "The Simpsons" still one the funniest, best-written comedies on TV after more than a decade, but his new "Futurama" shows promise of becoming an equally impressive product.

MOVIES/MINISERIES/SPECIALS: "Alice In Wonderland" (NBC); "The Farmer's Wife" (PBS); "Horatio Hornblower" (A&E); "Joan of Arc" (CBS) and "Shot Through the Heart" (HBO)

"Alice in Wonderland" had great special effects, rendering it a beautiful-looking bore. The others are all good to excellent. "Horatio Hornblower" was a high-quality production that was also about the most fun thing to watch on TV this season. (And I voted for "The Farmer's Wife" in another category.)

NEW PROGRAM: "Cupid" (ABC); "Felicity" (WB); "It's like . . . you know" (ABC); "Sports Night" (ABC); "The Sopranos" (HBO); "Will & Grace" (NBC)

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