Bada-ching. Finally joining 21st century pop culture, Emmy voters last night caught up with what most of the world has known for years: "The Sopranos" is television's best show...

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Finally joining 21st century pop culture, Emmy voters last night caught up with what most of the world has known for years: “The Sopranos” is television’s best show.

HBO’s gritty psychological series about Family and family captured Best Drama after being nominated six times. In doing so, it at long last vanquished longtime rival and seemingly perpetual honoree “The West Wing.”

Also winning were Drea de Matteo and Michael Imperioli for their supporting work as the other disastrously embattled couple of “The Sopranos.”

Nearly as great a triumph for HBO was “Angels in America,” which racked up multiple wins, including Best Miniseries and Best Actor and Actress honors for Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. “Angels in America,” the miniseries about the AIDS crisis, won a record-setting 11 trophies, beating longtime record-holder “Roots,” which won nine in 1977.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon got respective kudos as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their splendid farewell work in “Sex and the City,” another HBO show. It was Parker’s first Emmy win for her role as Carrie Bradshaw.

Al Pacino reacts as he accepts the award for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a movie for his work on “Angels In America.”

But these multiple victories for HBO do not necessarily signal a sea change in the world of television honors.

While more viewers may be watching cable channels than networks these days, voters from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences still displayed a lot of affection for old, familiar favorites.

Among these was Allison Janney of “The West Wing,” who beat out heavy favorite Edie Falco of “The Sopranos” for Best Actress, Drama Series.

Falco did not have her strongest season last year, but her part stretches a far greater range and it is hard to see what new virtues voters discovered in the delightful, yet somewhat rote, character played by Janney.

Also recognized was Kelsey Grammer of the departed “Frasier,” who did have a great last year and scored his fourth award for Best Actor, Comedy. Joining Grammer from the “Frasier” family was David Hyde Pierce, who won Best Supporting Actor, Comedy.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, despite its almost universal endorsement by critics, was Fox’s “Arrested Development” for Best Comedy.

It’s a first for Sarah Jessica Parker as she wins for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for her work on “Sex And The City.”
Series creator Mitchell Hurwitz dutifully thanked Fox president Gail Berman for her support, even though the show originally was left to dangle in the notoriously difficult 9:30 p.m. Sunday slot when it first debuted.

And in the unspoken category of dark-horse candidate, James Spader of “The Practice” won Best Actor in a Drama, justifying ABC’s faith in creating a new spinoff for him this fall called “Boston Legal.”

ABC broadcast last evening’s three-hour show, a fact that only viewers with a blind spot for network self-promotion could have missed. Apparently NBC’s failure at turning the Olympics into an advertising vehicle for fall wasn’t a sufficient deterrent.

ABC, of course, has had very little to cheer about over the last several seasons except for a handful of reality shows.

Perhaps that explains the odd decision to turn Garry Shandling’s hosting duties into a dreary, overextended spoof of programs ranging from “Survivor” to “The Apprentice” to “American Idol.”

Note to ABC: making fun of other networks’ shows still draws attention to them.

Furthermore, it was an oddly dissonant note on a night when television devotes most of its energy to honoring what is creative. That’s why reality TV only gets two categories, with CBS’ “Amazing Race” winning Best Reality Competition program, despite the many camera shots of Donald Trump sitting in the audience.

Kelsey Grammer won for his work on “Frasier.”

Minus the shtick, Shandling was still a lukewarm presence. Even if artlessness is supposed to be his form of art, his work was an example of how you can only sail for so long under the flag of not really trying. The search for a great Emmy host continues.

As usual, the clip montages were less than stellar, falling victim to the producers’ desire to be both exclusive and inclusive.

Thus a tribute to the finest moments of last season included ABC’s excruciating “The Bachelor,” FX’s “Nip/Tuck” — mysteriously left off the list of Best Drama nominees — as well as the likes of “The Sopranos,” “CSI” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Stewart injected one of the evening’s rare political references with a satire on the Swift boat veterans’ anti-Kerry commercials. Restyled as an exposé of George Washington, it featured various soldiers repudiating the Father of Our Country’s claims to crossing the Delaware under the sponsorship of ““.

Later, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” won for Best Variety/Comedy/Music Special.

No doubt the two events were unrelated; even allegedly liberal Hollywood doesn’t have that kind of pull.

Despite Oscar-like touches, such as its own roll call of tributes to deceased television entertainers, the Emmys often seem to suffer from a perpetual second-class-citizen complex.

Perhaps it’s due to a downward trend in ratings. But I suspect you were watching, because virtually every rival network, knowing their turn to host will one day come, unplugs first-run episodes so viewers are more encouraged to watch the Emmys.

At any rate, nowhere was TV’s insecurity clearer than in the slavering attention paid to the presence of Pacino, a real live movie actor. He was the only winner whose speech wasn’t interrupted by music cues — though others certainly defied it.

Kay McFadden:

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