The Emmys lived up to its reputation as the least predictable entertainment awards show.
Television’s annual night of honors, where the AMC drama “Breaking Bad” and ABC comedy “Modern Family” were judged the industry’s finest on Sunday night, mixed in surprises with expected winners, and ended some winning streaks while extending others. Newcomer Netflix made its presence felt, but not in the splashy way it had hoped for.
“Nobody in America is winning their office pool,” host Neil Patrick Harris said late in the CBS telecast from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
The best drama win for “Breaking Bad” was its first ever, and Anna Gunn won a best supporting actress award for playing the wife of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White character, the chemistry teacher turned drug lord whom the series revolves around. Cranston was denied a bid for his fourth drama acting award for the show.
It was splendid publicity for “Breaking Bad,” which airs its series finale next Sunday. “What a way to go out,” Cranston said backstage.
“I’m biased, I love our show,” added Vince Gilligan, the series’ creator. “I was stunned that we won. It was a very big surprise for me.”
Going into the Emmys, much speculation surrounded whether Netflix’s “House of Cards” would be the first series not shown on a broadcast or cable network to win best drama. It didn’t, but Gilligan said if it wasn’t for streaming services like Netflix, his show wouldn’t have lasted beyond its second season.
“House of Cards” was the first online program to be nominated for a top series honor, as big a revolution in the TV industry as when HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” became the first cable series nominee. It was a decade, however, until another cable show, “Sex and the City,” won one of the awards. David Fincher of “House of Cards” won a directing award.
The “Modern Family” win can’t be called a surprise, since it has been declared best comedy all four years that it has been on the air. None of its ensemble cast took home trophies, though.
Jeff Daniels of the HBO drama “Newsroom” was probably the most unexpected winner, declared best actor in a drama in a category with heavyweights like Cranston, Jon Hamm of “Mad Men,” Kevin Spacey of “House of Cards” and Damian Lewis of “Homeland.”
“I felt the work stood up to what the other guys are doing,” Daniels said. “But we’re all doing different things.”
One of the show’s oddest moments came quickly, when Merritt Wever of “Nurse Jackie” won best supporting actress in a comedy series. “Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um, I got to go, bye,” Wever told the audience. Her brevity drew positive notices from Harris and not a few folks on Twitter.
Wever said later she made it quick because she thought she was going to cry.
Tony Hale of “Veep” was another surprise winner in the comedy supporting actor category, beating three “Modern Family” cast members.
“Was I fine? Because I totally blacked out,” he asked about his acceptance speech backstage.
More familiar names took home best acting trophies for comedies. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for the second year in a row for playing the lead character in the HBO series “Veep.” Jim Parsons, whose CBS show “The Big Bang Theory” has blossomed into television’s most popular comedy, won his second acting award.
“It means a ton because I’ve actually lost many, many more times than I’ve won. I’ve lost 10 times in fact. It’s delicious to win,” said Louis-Dreyfus, who has now won twice as many personal Emmys for “Veep” as she did playing Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld.”
As she accepted her second straight award as best actress in a drama for Showtime’s “Homeland,” Claire Danes paid tribute to one of the series’ writers, who died last March and received a writing Emmy posthumously on Sunday.
The ceremony often struck a melancholy note with extended tributes to stars and other industry members who died in the past year.
“Well, this may be the saddest Emmys of all time but we could not be happier,” said “Modern Family” executive producer Steve Levitan.
A notable Emmy winning streak ended Sunday when “The Colbert Report” beat its comedy rival “The Daily Show” in the variety series category. Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” had won the award for 10 years straight.
“We get a boost from just how stupid the real news is,” Colbert said backstage. Colbert, who once worked on “The Daily Show,” paid tribute to Stewart and noted that Stewart gets a piece of this year’s Emmy, too, because he’s an executive producer of “The Colbert Report.
Another relative stranglehold — the dominance of “The Amazing Race” in the reality show category — was ended when NBC’s “The Voice” won that category.
Michael Douglas was honored as best actor for his portrayal of Liberace in the HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra,” besting his co-star Matt Damon. The film also captured a top trophy as best movie or miniseries. It was a good night for the pay cable service HBO, which took home seven awards and earned bragging rights over its rival Showtime.
“Saturday Night Live,” whose director Don Loy King won an Emmy Sunday, has also eclipsed “Frasier” with the most Emmy Awards ever. “SNL” now has 40 in its history.
Diahann Carroll, the first African-American Emmy nominee in 1963 for “Naked City,” created one of the night’s most heartfelt moments when she took the stage with best drama actress nominee Kerry Washington and noted the importance of diversity in the industry and Emmys.
“Tonight, she better get this award,” Carroll said of Washington, who covered her eyes in embarrassment. Danes’ victory denied Washington.
AP writers Sandy Cohen, Lynn Elber, Beth Harris and Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
Stars on the red carpet talk about binge viewing in this video.