With a click of the remote, the Academy tunes up TV's top awards with a host of fresh contenders.

By Lynette RiceClarissa Cruz and Nicholas Fonseca
Updated August 02, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

There are certain things you can count on in Hollywood. Fake boobs. Tanning beds. An Emmy nomination for Frasier. Oops, scratch that last one: When the nods were announced July 18, the astonishing list of first-timers — 19 of the 41 series acting nominees are new to their categories — signaled a changing of the prime-time guard.

Gone were the predictable accolades for ER, Ally McBeal, and four-time winner Dennis Franz. Instead, the rolls were dominated by frosh series like FX’s The Shield, ABC’s Alias, and Fox’s 24 and The Bernie Mac Show — as well as 23 nods for HBO’s Six Feet Under, including Peter Krause and Rachel Griffiths. (That’s one more than season-skipping Mob dramedy The Sopranos received last year.) ”At the beginning, everybody was going ‘This show is so dark, you’re such a freak, people aren’t going to watch this,”’ says Six Feet creator Alan Ball. ”So when people actually are watching and are responding, then you feel, Maybe I’m not such a big freak after all.” (The series is considered a front-runner with NBC’s The West Wing, which boasts 21 noms.)

”This is the most drastic shake-up of the Emmy lineup in years,” says Thomas O’Neil, author of The Emmys and host of awards site goldderby.com. ”They threw out the old guard and ushered in a whole army of Young Turks.” Even some of the Turks were surprised. ”My mouth just dropped,” recalls The Shield’s Michael Chiklis, a best actor nominee. ”And my wife says, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to wear?”’

Many in Tinseltown feel the change is long overdue. ”For Christ’s sake, how many more times can we have ER?” asks Michael Vartan, whose Alias costar Jennifer Garner was nominated for best actress in a drama. ”I love the show, but come on — move over, buddy!” Move over they did: Even Anthony Edwards and Eriq La Salle, both in their final year on the medical drama, got snubbed.

Despite all the new blood, this year also boasts the resurgence of one eight-year-old standby. After a ratings ascent fueled by Jennifer Aniston’s pregnancy plot, NBC’s Friends snagged 11 nominations. For the first time, all six stars entered the lead category — and Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry scored mentions. (The West Wing’s Allison Janney also elevated herself and snagged a lead actress nod.) The losers in the gambit: Ally’s Calista Flockhart, Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz, and Eric McCormack.

Pity McCormack. Not only did the Will & Grace star win best actor in a comedy last year, but he was also drafted to read the nominations live at 5:35 a.m. PDT. That morning during rehearsals, an Academy rep gave him a heads-up that he hadn’t made the cut. Says an Academy exec: ”We wanted to give him the chance to maintain his dignity.” McCormack thus had a few minutes to prepare a gracious quip: ”It’s just as well. You know how hard it is to get a sitter?”

McCormack wasn’t the only odd man out. While nine stars of The West Wing earned nods, Rob Lowe did not. (Alas, he was also banished to the closing credits of Austin Powers in Goldmember.) ”That’s a record for series representation — they even nominated Mary-Louise Parker, who’s not a regular,” says O’Neil. Similarly, Six Feet Under cop Mathew St. Patrick and Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis were the only regulars on their shows bypassed. Sex costar Cynthia Nixon offers one explanation: ”People get so distracted by how beautiful [Davis] is, they don’t notice all the skill and artistry there.”