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Tuned In: Expectations are low for subdued Emmys

Thursday, October 04, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Even before last month's terrorist attacks, the annual Emmy Awards gave little reason for great expectations.

Just look at the nominees: Too many names we've seen before (Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Franz). Others are just undeserving (John Lithgow, "ER").

But the Emmys will go on at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS, and the primary race will be between "The Sopranos" (22 nominations) and "The West Wing" (18 nods).

In the hotly contested drama series category, "The Sopranos" is probably most deserving, but I'd be just as happy if "The West Wing" wins (nominees "ER," "Law & Order" and "The Practice" don't measure up).

Among comedy series, the competition is more fierce. "Frasier" is tired and I've always thought "Sex and the City" overrated, but "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Will & Grace" all had winning episodes last season. But if I got to cast a ballot, "Malcolm" would get my vote.

Regardless of the winners, the Emmy ceremony promises to be a subdued affair. Joan Rivers won't be on the red carpet asking, "Who are you wearing?" for E! Attire will be business casual instead of award show glam. The ceremony itself will be muted.

Walter Cronkite will open the broadcast before the introduction of host Ellen DeGeneres. Celebrities will congregate in both Los Angeles and New York, because some New York-based nominees didn't want to leave their families and fly to Los Angeles.

In a teleconference Tuesday, executive producer Don Mischer said taped segments relating to the terrorist attacks will air, possibly including a tribute to TV reporters who covered the story.

Mischer said DeGeneres is "completely comfortable" hosting the show.

"Her role will be that of moving us through the evening gracefully, and she will do that with humor," he said. "The humor will be different than what we had planned before."

Irreverence will be less prevalent (scenes of Will Ferrell as President Bush on "Saturday Night Live" likely won't appear), which doesn't sit well with everyone in Hollywood. Mischer said he's gotten calls from celebrities with opinions running the gamut: Some think the Emmys should have been canceled, others think it should go on as it always has with no restraints.

Security has been heightened, and music will be at a minimum.

"We'll begin the show with much less music and fanfare than we normally have had, and as we go through the evening it may evolve into more music," Mischer said. No decisions have been made about including patriotic songs. As the show goes along, it may become more celebratory, he speculated.

"Shows like the Emmys live or die with what nominees who win say, and I'm very confident we will have some emotion on Sunday night," Mischer said. Producers haven't advised nominees what to say if they win, but Mischer said, "Speaking from the heart about how they feel about being an American might be better than political stances."

Surviving 'Survivor'

The third edition of "Survivor," this one set in Africa, kicks off next week with a preview show at 8 tonight on CBS.

In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, host Jeff Probst wouldn't say much about the new season, naturally, but he was happy to set the stage.

"It's different the moment you step off the plane, and you go, 'That's what Africa smells like,' " Probst said. "It smells like a combination of animal business and just old leather. It's got an aroma that's unique and has a warm spot in my heart now.... It's the birthplace of humanity.... The word to describe Africa is 'epic.' "

Contestants live in huts they construct themselves, and Probst urged them to post a sentry each night to watch for wild animals. It's against the law to kill any of the animals, and fishing isn't an option due to polluted water (contestants must boil water before drinking it).

But is it tacky to make hunger a plot point in a TV show taped in a place where starvation is real?

"That was certainly an obvious first concern of ours," Probst said. "We were going to this place where people really are starving. There's no mistaking 'Survivor' for [anything but] a television show. We're not going to have anybody die of starvation. They're given enough to get by, but not enough to make it easy. That's where the rewards come in."

Hitting closer to home, will a show titled "Survivor" draw as many viewers in light of the terrorist attacks on America in which survival took on a real connotation?

"There's no confusing 'reality' [television] with the reality our country's in," Probst said. "You'd have to be an idiot."

This time the show's theme song will feature African children singing the trademark chant ("Hauntingly beautiful," Probst raved). As for rumors that the tribes don't merge or that they split into three, Probst was cagey.

"All I can tell you is we're not going to mess very much with the structure," he said. "We'll throw in twists, absolutely. We do that just to make sure the survivors don't think they know what direction the show is going in."

'Charmed' again

Rose McGowan makes her first appearance on "Charmed" as the previously unknown fourth Halliwell sister, Paige, in tonight's two-hour premiere (8 p.m., The WB). Actually, she's a half-sister, but that's good enough to reconstitute the "power of three."

McGowan replaces Shannen Doherty, whose character was killed at the end of last season when Doherty quit or was fired from the show.

Never a big fan of "Charmed," I was fairly impressed with tonight's premiere. Piper (Holly Marie Combs) mourns and rages appropriately for her slain sister ("I don't understand why magic can't fix this! We've cheated death before!") in the first hour.

The second hour returns humor to the show as Piper and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) try to sway Paige to their side before a 48-hour clause closes that could see the new sis drawn to the dark side.

"Who makes up these cockamamie rules?" Piper says. "Oh, never mind."

Actually, the funniest scenes are those that resonate if you've read behind-the-scenes dirt from the "Charmed" set (thank you, TV Guide). Combs and Doherty were friends, so it makes sense to see Piper mourn more than Milano's Phoebe (Milano and Doherty supposedly butted heads). And what must Doherty think when she sees her boyfriend, actor Julian McMahon, kissing his "Charmed" love interest, Milano?

What a strange brew in these witches' cauldron.

The door revolves again

WPGH/WCWB regional manager Dick Singer was fired Tuesday by station owner Sinclair Broadcasting. November would have marked his two-year anniversary at the station.

Alan Frank, who previously served as regional manager from September 1991 to November 1997, returned to WPGH as director of sales earlier this year. He's now station manager, responsible for most operations except news and engineering.

Steven Marks, a Sinclair regional manager based at WTTA in St. Petersburg, Fla., will add WPGH/WCWB to the almost two dozen stations he oversees.

In a meeting with staff Tuesday, Marks assured them Sinclair has no plan to shutter the Channel 53 news operation as Sinclair did last week at the company's ABC affiliate in St. Louis.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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