Plus Kesley Grammer, Lou Diamond Phillips and the latest news from the TV beat

Rock in a Hard Place

Somebody’s got it in for Chris Rock. Thanks to a confusing new method of Emmy voting for the Variety, Music, and Comedy Series category, Rock—nearly denied a nod last year when The Chris Rock Show was mistakenly left off the ballot (a revision was quickly sent out)—may face another roadblock. Traditionally, voters pick winners by ranking nominees from 1 to 5 (1 being the most excellent), but the Academy decided that in this and the Variety, Music, and Comedy Special category, wildly different shows are unfairly pitted against one another (a skit show like Saturday Night Live versus a late-night talker like Late Show With David Letterman, for example). So this year, the Academy asked voters to rank nominees (SNL, Letterman, Rock, The Daily Show, and Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher) by merit; it also reversed the order, making 5 the highest mark instead of 1. Confused? So were many voters—one of whom almost sent in a ballot giving Rock, his favorite, a 1 before his wife caught the error. Says Emmy Awards VP John Leverence: ”The new rules were precisely noted in the instructions, but I completely understand how, this being the first year, somebody may have turned to the variety category and said, ‘What the hell is going on?”’ We’ll ask the same thing if Bill Maher ends up with the trophy come Sept. 16.

Prize Possession

Speaking of Emmy looniness, despite the Academy’s effort to honor TV’s fresher faces via a new polling system designed to attract younger, busier industry voters, three-time Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer still looks like a front-runner for best actor this year. Emmy historian Tom O’Neil (who screens each nominee’s sole-submission tape and makes surprisingly dead-on annual predictions) believes the Frasier star is neck and neck with Will & Grace‘s Eric McCormack (the other nominees include Ray Romano, John Lithgow, and Frankie Muniz) and wouldn’t be surprised if Grammer triumphed. His tape features the episode in which Frasier feels empty after receiving a lifetime achievement award; McCormack threw Will’s coming-out flashback into the ring. Says O’Neil: ”If Grammer wins, TV reporters will scream because they like new winners. But fair’s fair. Grammer is brilliant on his tape and so is McCormack. If either one wins, it’ll prove that Emmy voters did their job. If anyone else wins, I’ll scream.”

AND SO ON… What do you do when your new fall show has no buzz and is about, um, wolves? Get naked! When CBS retooled Wolf Lake—changing Lou Diamond Phillips‘ character from a wildlife investigator tracking four-legged foes to a spurned lover in search of his wolfen fiancée—the net gave producers free rein to go au naturel. ”We’re allowing them to push the envelope [nudity-wise] as long as it’s germane to the story,” says CBS series VP David Stapf, who adds, ”It doesn’t hurt that this is an attractive cast.” The Eye will flash an NYPD Blue-style content disclaimer to calm those with pacemakers.