‘Simpsons’ Beat ‘South Park’ in Early Emmy Race
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES — “The Simpsons” claimed U.S. television’s highest honor for a prime-time cartoon on Saturday as Emmy voters shied away from giving the prize to “South Park” for an episode lampooning Scientology and Tom Cruise.
It marked the ninth year that “The Simpsons,” airing on the News Corp. Ltd.-owned Fox network for 17 years as the longest-running comedy series in prime time, was named best animated show.
The hit cartoon about a lazy, dim-witted, donut-chomping family man named Homer Simpson, won its latest accolade for an episode titled “The Seemingly Neverending Story.”
Former “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer also claimed an Emmy for his voice work as “The Simpsons” character Sideshow Bob. The show’s victories came near the end of a nearly four-hour presentation of the 58th annual Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
The ceremony, mostly honoring achievements in categories like makeup, costumes, sound editing and art direction, serves as a prelude to the higher-profile Primetime Emmy Awards that get handed out on a live NBC broadcast August 27.
But this year’s animation award drew more attention than usual due to the furor surrounding a “South Park” parody of the Church of Scientology and Cruise, one of its most famous adherents, that was nominated opposite “The Simpsons.”
A rerun of the “Trapped in the Closet” episode, originally telecast in November, was abruptly canceled by the Comedy Central network in March after soul singer Isaac Hayes, also a Scientologist, quit his job on the show as the voice of the character Chef in protest.
“South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have said they believe the “Closet” repeat was pulled because Cruise threatened to boycott promotion of his own film “Mission: Impossible III,” for Paramount Pictures, also a unit of network parent Viacom Inc.. Representatives for Cruise and Paramount denied having anything to do with killing the rerun.
Acknowledging the “South Park” flap in his acceptance speech on the stage, “Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean said, “This is what happens when you don’t mock Scientology.”
In another instance of Emmy longevity, veteran performer Cloris Leachman took home the award for best guest actress on a comedy series for her role as the cranky grandmother who sues her own family on “Malcolm in the Middle.”
The prize marked the eighth Primetime Emmy of Leachman’s prolific career, the most amassed by a single actress, surpassing the seven earned by Mary Tyler Moore, on whose show Leachman became a household name in the 1970s.
“I’m 80, and if your heart doesn’t stop beating, and you stay up with it, look what can happen,” said Leachman, an Oscar winner the 1971 film “The Last Picture Show” who will appear next week in the big-screen comedy “Beerfest.”
Leachman’s prize was one of just four acting awards given out as part of Saturday’s awards. The guest actress Emmy in a drama series award went to big-screen performer Patricia Clarkson for role as Aunt Sarah in HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”
Michael J. Fox and James Woods lost to lesser-known “Boston Legal” guest star Christian Clemenson in the race for best guest actor in a drama.
The HBO miniseries “Elizabeth I” about the English monarch, claimed the most Emmys on Sunday with five wins, followed by HBO documentary “Baghdad ER,” which won four.
HBO, a Time Warner Inc.-owned cable channel, collected 17 of the 63 prizes handed out, followed by Disney-owned ABC with 10.