Surprises mark Writers Guild nominations. Documentary ''Bowling for Columbine'' as best original screenplay?

By Gary Susman
Updated February 06, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Announcing its nominations for best original and adapted screenplays on Thursday, the Writers Guild of America named a lot of the movies expected to earn Oscar nods in those categories next week, and at least one that almost certainly will not. The adaptation category includes such oddsmaker favorites as ”Adaptation,” ”Chicago,” ”The Hours,” and ”About Schmidt,” as well as the nearly forgotten spring film ”About a Boy.”

In the original screenplay category, there’s ”Antwone Fisher,” ”Far From Heaven,” ”Gangs of New York,” ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and ”Bowling for Columbine.” Huh? Isn’t Michael Moore’s ”Columbine” a documentary? Yes, but the 12,000 WGA members also found it to be a fine piece of original writing — and better, apparently, than such highly touted fictional screenplays as ”Punch-Drunk Love,” ”Narc,” and ”Roger Dodger.”

The inclusion of ”Columbine” highlights some of the more arcane and complex reasoning behind which screenplays make it into which categories. For instance, the autobiographical ”Fisher” hit theaters a year after Fisher’s memoir ”Finding Fish,” was published, but he wrote the screenplay first, so it’s an original screenplay.

So is ”Greek Wedding,” which star Nia Vardalos says was written before her legendary one-woman show, the one that convinced Rita Wilson to back a movie version. Martin Scorsese has talked for decades about how he wanted to adapt Herbert Asbury’s historical study ”Gangs of New York” into a movie, but the film version uses the history as a backdrop for a thoroughly fictional story, so its screenplay is considered original, too. On the other hand, ”Adaptation” departs even more radically from its source (Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book ”The Orchid Thief”), but true to its title, it’s still considered an adaptation, not an original.

The Guild also honors TV writing, with scripts for multiple episodes eligible for prizes. In the comedy series category, three episodes of ”Sex and the City” are up against one episode each of ”The Bernie Mac Show,” ”Ed,” ”Frasier,” and ”Scrubs.” Drama nominees include ”The Education of Max Bickford,” ”ER,” ”Resurrection Boulevard,” ”Six Feet Under,” ”The Sopranos,” and ”The West Wing.”

In the new category for animated shows, three episodes of ”The Simpsons” and one episode each of ”Futurama” and ”King of the Hill” are up against the Christmas special ”Santa, Baby!”, all from Fox. The awards will be handed out March 8, two weeks before the Oscars, at simultaneous ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and the Pierre Hotel in New York.