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Tucson Weekly The Envelope, Please

Celebrating The Wonder Of Network Television With The First-Ever Tommy Awards!

By Tom Danehy

JUNE 7, 1999:  WITH THE COMING of Memorial Day, we now bid farewell to first-run, prime-time TV until the latter weeks of September, if then. It's a busy time for us. We have to take the batteries out of the remote control and store our weapon of choice until the fall. We get to turn the couch cushions over, giving them four months to return to somewhere near their original shapes. Then we have to get up and move around and do stuff. It's a bleak time of year, really.

However, it was a good season and, while the sitcom continues well on its way to extinction, we were treated to some of the best drama ever seen on TV. Highlights (and lowlights) of the past season:

BEST DRAMATIC SERIES: The Practice. I've been bragging about this series since its first episode. (This is not to say that I'm some great finder of hidden treasures. I watch everything, then I sort it all out afterwards.)

This series is almost full-contact TV. Over the season, it built up to the finale by following a nerdy doctor who first computer-dated the "Hey, I'm Large" Eleanor (Camryn Manheim), then sued her when she dumped him. Later he was arrested with a severed head in his medical bag. He endured the trial, was acquitted, survived a police attempt to plant incriminating evidence on him, then showed up in the final frame of the final show walking the streets dressed as a homicidal nun. And somehow it all made sense.

When series creator/writer David E. Kelley plays it straight, no one in TV can touch him. His work is brilliant. But when he decides to try farce, we end up with...

MOST OVER-RATED SHOW: Ally McBeal. This is virtually unwatchable, and I once sat through back-to-back episodes of The Nanny. I've watched entire episodes of Ally without smiling even once. And yet the schizophrenic Kelley pushes it as a comedy for Emmy consideration.

And we must all stop asking Calista Flockhart about her eating disorders. Does anyone really think that she'll admit to it (them)? No, she'll wait until after the series is over, then appear on the cover of People magazine with the caption, "I need help."

I just hope she takes Lara Flynn Boyle from The Practice with her. A shot of Boyle in tight-fitting clothing is scarier than anything you'll ever see on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.

STILL SURPRISINGLY GOOD AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: NYPD Blue and Friends. The cop drama had a season for the ages. They lost Jimmy Smits, picked up a stunningly good Rick Schroeder, then, to top things off, threw a thunderbolt at Dennis Franz that should send his Andy Sipowicz character spiraling into an uncharted section of hell next year.

Don't be surprised if all three aforementioned actors get Best Actor, Drama Series Emmy nods. And the show's a lock for a best Drama Series nomination.

As for Friends, this light series managed to stay fresh despite its familiar characters and thin subject matter. It's not as good as Frasier, which is a mortal lock to win its unprecedented sixth straight Best Comedy Series Emmy. But then, few series in TV history were ever as good as Frasier.

BEST MINI-SERIES: The Temptations. What a treat this was. When I was a kid, all the guys tried to delay the onset of puberty so they could sing like Smokey Robinson as long as possible. Then, when the inevitable happened, they all became David Ruffin.

This mini-series was a Motown lover's dream. Great music, wonderful characters, the inside dish on the stars we all loved, and the depiction of a then-high-school-age-but-still-bitchy Diana Ross. The actor Leon deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of the talented but fatally flawed Ruffin.

BEST GEEK TREAT: PBS did a great show on the math whiz who solved the previously unsolvable Fermat's Last Theorem. Even though the show (and the geek) veered off into the completely undecipherable world of modular forms, it was gripping stuff. Still, I felt a bit cheated when I learned that it would take a computer days to complete this guy's calculations when Fermat had hinted just before his death in 1665 that he could do it on a piece of paper by hand.

BEST TV MOMENT: When my old golfing buddy (and former KRQ morning deejay) Jimmy Kimmel won a Daytime Emmy for his part on Win Ben Stein's Money. It doesn't matter that he got the Daytime Emmy for a show that's on a half-hour past midnight in Tucson. The cool part was that he jumped off the stage and gave his Emmy to 18-time-loser Susan Lucci, who then won her own Emmy a few minutes later.

Hey, maybe I should give Jimmy a call to congratulate him and try to find a way to sneak in a mention of that idea I had for a new TV series. You don't think he'd find that cynical, do you?

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