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TV critics love ‘The Sopranos’

SHARE TV critics love ‘The Sopranos’

PASADENA, Calif. — The Television Critics Association's love affair with HBO's Mafia family continued as "The Sopranos" took home three awards in ceremonies at the Ritz-Carlton Hunting Hotel here.

(Hmmm . . . TV critics and murderous mobsters — just a coincidence?)

"The Sopranos" led a list of largely repeat performers at the 17th annual TCA Awards. The series was named program of the year for the second time in three years, and it won for top drama, also for the second time in three years.

"I, certainly, and everyone on the show value this award immensely, and we're just so flattered," said creator/executive producer David Chase.

"Sopranos" star James Gandolfini won for outstanding individual achievement in drama for the third year in a row.

And, for the second year in a row, Gandolfini was unable to attend the ceremonies, sending a taped message.

"Robert Iler was kind enough to go there last year to receive the award for me," Gandolfini said. "He can't do that this year because he's not allowed to leave the state."

(Iler, of course, was recently arrested in connection with a mugging.)

"The Sopranos" was far from the only repeat winner. "The West Wing" (last year's program of the year) tied with the HBO series as the season's top drama (an award "West Wing" also won last year). And creator/executive producer Aaron Sorkin thanked critics for, perhaps, drawing attention away from the show's ongoing contract negotiations (with John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney and Richard Schiff) and his own recent arrest on drug charges.

"You've never seen a group of people so happy to be done with hiatus," Sorkin said. "In the doldrums of summer reruns and reality shows, a television critic needs something to talk about — no need to thank us. . . . We really want to thank the TCA for giving us a night when we can put our heads back up for a minute."

Whitford's wife, Jane Kaczmarek, won her second consecutive award for outstanding individual achievement in comedy for her role in "Malcolm in the Middle" — which also won outstanding comedy for the second year in a row. Kaczmarek's win came as sort of a surprise to her mother.

"When I called my mother last year and told her that I won, she said, 'Well. You can be funny. Sometimes,' " Kaczmarek said. "And when I called her this year and told her that I'd won again, she said, 'Well. I guess some people just think you're funnier than we do.' "

A highlight of the evening — and perhaps the longest standing ovation in the history of the awards — came when Sid Caesar accepted the lifetime achievement award. He brought down the house, doing several minutes of schtick in which he gave acceptance speeches in mock-French, mock-German and mock-Italian before giving his heartfelt thanks and saying, "It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride."

Not all the winners were repeaters. "Gilmore Girls" took home the award as the best new show (a category in which, of course, it's impossible to repeat). Creator/executive producer Amy Sherman-Paladino said she was sort of surprised anyone even noticed her show, particularly given that it aired opposite "Friends" and "Survivor."

"I don't know how much of a life we would've had if the critics hadn't jumped in up there and said, 'Hey! Look at that,' " she said.

Amazingly, "Sesame Street" won for the first time as outstanding children's show (tying with last year's winner, "Between the Lions"). Ken Burns' documentary series "Jazz" was honored in the news and information category, and "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" was named outstanding movie or miniseries.

"I made myself a promise to carry the torch of my mother's legacy so that the flame of her life and her talent would never die," said Garland's daughter, executive producer Lorna Luft. "I accept this on her behalf."

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com