Ally McBeal, Practice Get Top Honors

By LYNN ELBER AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - David E. Kelley smiled politely, and chuckled a few times, during a succession of jokes about his prolific ability to conceive and write television shows.

Ultimately, he had the last laugh.

Two shows he created and produced, ``Ally McBeal'' and ``The Practice,'' were honored as the best in the business on Sunday night's Emmy awards program.

``I think you can see from the looks on our faces we're a little surprised, but we'll take it,'' Kelley said.

ABC's ``The Practice'' won for best drama series for the second year in a row, beating more attention-getting series like ``NYPD Blue'' and ``The Sopranos.'' Holland Taylor and Michael Badalucco won acting awards for their roles on ``The Practice.''

``Ally McBeal,'' Fox's offbeat hour about a bizarre Boston law firm starring Calista Flockhart, won as best comedy - dethroning NBC's ``Frasier,'' which had won five years in a row.

``If someone were to ask me the fastest or best way to win an Emmy, I'd say write a script and get Calista Flockhart to say the words,'' Kelley said.

Otherwise, the farewell department at the Emmys went one-for-three. Helen Hunt took home a last award for the series finale of ``Mad About You,'' while co-star Paul Reiser and ``NYPD Blue's'' Jimmy Smits were were shut out in their swan songs.

Hunt won her fourth straight Emmy for best actress in a comedy series, becoming the second star to win acting awards four straight years. The first was John Larroquette as best supporting actor in a comedy series for ``Night Court.''

Reiser was shut out for the seventh year in a row for the best comedy actor award, which went to John Lithgow for ``3rd Rock from the Sun.''

Hunt thanked Reiser ``for inviting me to be on the show with you, and how will I ever find someone to act with I trust and love so much?''

Smits, nominated for best dramatic actor for his farewell as Bobby Simone on ``NYPD Blue,'' lost to series co-star Dennis Franz. Smits left the show, and his character died in his emotional final episode.

``I was feeling pretty comfortable because I knew I wasn't going to have get up and say anything,'' Franz said. ``I was sure Jimmy was.''

Smits had been nominated all five years he was on the show, but he never won.

Edie Falco of HBO's bold mob tale ``The Sopranos'' was named best lead actress.

``This is about the most surreal experience I could have imagined,'' said Miss Falco, who plays a soccer mom married to the mob.

``The Sopranos'' entered the night with the most nominations but collected only one other Emmy, best drama series writing.

Lithgow accepted his third award for the NBC sitcom.

``I really don't know why I have won this. As far as I can tell every actor in this town thinks what I do on '3rd Rock' is completely disgraceful. I'm embarrassed myself,'' he joked.

Kristen Johnston of ``3rd Rock'' was named best supporting actress in a comedy and David Hyde Pierce won the supporting actor's honor for ``Frasier.''

``So glad I put on pants,'' said Emmy host Pierce, who had quickly changed into a tuxedo after donning a purple unitard for a show-opening skit. It was his third Emmy.

Pierce and his co-host, Jenna Elfman of ``Dharma & Greg,'' started the Shrine Auditorium ceremony by performing interpretive dance numbers poking fun at popular television series.

Jay Leno may be clobbering David Letterman in the ratings, but Letterman's ``Late Show'' took the Emmy for best variety series for the second straight year.

``John Leguizamo's Freak'' won an Emmy for best performance in a variety or music program. Leguizamo thanked HBO, dubbing it the ``Hispanic Box Office,'' and said he welcomed the chance to do his one-man show for TV because ``the Latin voice is something that's lacking and missing in the media.''

He spoke on the opening day of a two-week television viewing boycott organized by Hispanic groups angry at television because of its lack of ethnic diversity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is considering similar action.

A&E's ``Horatio Hornblower'' was named best miniseries and HBO's ``A Lesson Before Dying'' captured the made-for-TV movie crown.

In the miniseries or movie grouping, Helen Mirren won best actress for Showtime's ``The Passion of Ayn Rand'' and Stanley Tucci of HBO's ``Winchell'' was best actor. Supporting acting honors went to Anne Bancroft for the CBS movie ``Deep in My Heart'' and to Peter O'Toole for the same network's miniseries ``Joan of Arc.''

There was even a father-son Emmy team. Paul Miller earned his first trophy for directing the 1998 Tonys, beating his father, Walter C. Miller. Later, dad picked up the award when the Tony telecast won for best variety special. The elder Miller was executive producer.

``Fifty years in the business and my son takes an Emmy away from me,'' the elder Miller said.

HBO claimed the most number of Emmys, 23, a sign of the growing prominence and power of cable television. NBC was the leading broadcast network with 17 trophies, followed by ABC with 13, CBS with 11 and Fox with seven.

``The Sopranos'' and ``Ally McBeal'' led all the nominees going into the show.

Winners in 52 categories were announced at the Emmy creative arts awards held Aug. 28. ``The Sopranos'' and ``Ally McBeal'' each won two trophies then.

Four acting awards for guest roles also were given out last month.

Mel Brooks was honored as outstanding guest actor in a comedy series for his role as Uncle Phil on NBC's ``Mad About You,'' while Tracey Ullman was named in the matching actress category for her role as a therapist on ``Ally McBeal.''

Edward Herrmann's role as a murder defendant on ``The Practice'' was honored with an Emmy in the drama category, while Debra Monk received an award for guest-starring on ``NYPD Blue'' as Detective Andy Sipowicz's ex-wife.

For best commercial, the award went to, an Internet service.