The Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra added to its haul in Los Angeles on Sunday night during an Emmy Awards ceremony that didn't see one show dominate, but departing series Breaking Bad earn the coveted best drama trophy nonetheless.
The night's final two awards — best comedy series and best drama series — went to TV favourites Modern Family and Breaking Bad, respectively.
Behind the Candelabra added a trio of trophies to the leading eight awards it picked up at last week’s Creative Arts Emmy ceremony. Along with being named best miniseries or movie, it also earned kudos for director Steven Soderbergh and actor Michael Douglas, who starred as the internationally renowned, closeted gay performer Liberace.
“This is a two-hander and … you’re only as good as your other hand,” Douglas said as he acknowledged his co-star and fellow nominee Matt Damon, who portrayed Liberace’s younger one-time lover Scott Thorson.
“You were magnificent and the only reason I’m standing here is because of you, so you really deserve half of this,” Douglas declared before adding saucily, “So, you want the bottom or the top?”
Ensemble comedy Modern Family picked up its fourth consecutive Emmy as American television's top comedy, adding to an earlier win for direction.
Primetime Emmy winners:
- Comedy series: Modern Family
- Actress, comedy series: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
- Actor, comedy series: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
- Supporting actress, comedy series: Merritt Weaver, Nurse Jackie
- Supporting actor, comedy series: Tony Hale, Veep
- Writing, comedy series:Tina Fey, Tracey Wigfield, 30 Rock
- Direction, comedy series: Gale Mancuso, Modern Family
- Dramatic series: Breaking Bad
- Actress, drama: Claire Danes, Homeland
- Actor, drama: Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
- Supporting actress, drama: Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
- Supporting actor, drama: Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire
- Writing, drama series: Henry Bromell, Homeland
- Direction, drama: David Fincher, House of Cards
- Miniseries or movie: Behind the Candelabra
- Actress, miniseries or movie: Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter
- Supporting actor, miniseries or movie: James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum
- Supporting actress, miniseries or movie: Ellen Burstyn, Political Animals
- Writing, miniseries, movie or special: Abi Morgan, The Hour
- Direction, miniseries, movie or special:Steven Soderbergh, Behind the Candalabra
- Reality competition: The Voice
- Variety series: The Colbert Report
- Writing, variety series: The Colbert Report
- Direction, variety series: Don Roy King, Saturday Night Live
- Choreography: Derek Hough, Dancing with the Stars
"I cannot begin to express how surreal this ride has been because none of us grew up feeling like winners," show creator Steven Levitan said as his large cast and creative crew filed onstage behind him.
"Thank you to the bullies, to the popular kids, to the gym teachers who taunted us, who rejected us and who made fun of the way we ran. Without you, we never would have gotten into comedy. Thank you."
The much touted drug drama Breaking Bad, which ends its acclaimed five-season run next week, captured the title of best drama. Sunday night's awards vied for viewers of the penultimate episode of the series, which followed the transformation of a terminally ill school teacher into a drug kingpin.
"I did not see this coming," said Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, as he proceeded to acknowledge his fellow dramatic nominees, which included Mad Men, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and House of Cards, the first online series to be a top contender for the Emmys.
"It could have been any of them and even some others that were not nominated in this golden age of television we feel so proud to be a part of," Gilligan noted.
Awards spread out
The strength of television's current offerings could be one reason for the night's widespread distribution of awards. There were no real landslide victories and quite a few surprises.
"This just in. Nobody in America is winning their Emmy office pool," host Neil Patrick Harris quipped as the televised gala approached its finale.
Jeff Daniels nabbed one of the evening's top acting honours, triumphing in the dramatic actor category for his turn as an outspoken TV anchor in The Newsroom. His win came over stiff competition, including Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and Mad Men's Jon Hamm.
"I usually don't win anything," Daniels quipped as he accepted his trophy, joking that his last honour came from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for "best actor over the age of 50" for The Squid and The Whale.
Actress Claire Danes picked up her third Emmy for her lead turn in the terrorism drama Homeland and devoted half of her speech to the late Henry Bromell, a writer on the series who died in March. Bromell posthumously won a Emmy earlier in the evening, with his wife accepting his trophy.
Dramatic supporting actor and actress winners were Bobby Cannavale (for Boardwalk Empire) and Anna Gunn (for Breaking Bad), respectively.
Comedy up front
Comedy was the focus in the early portion of the broadcast, with Veep and 30 Rock among the many shows that took awards.
Tina Fey and 30 Rock co-writer Tracey Wigfield picked up one of the night’s first honours: outstanding writing for a comedy series. Early trophies also went to several first-timers: Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Weaver (supporting actress in a comedy series) and Veep’s Tony Hale (supporting actor in a comedy series).
Though demonstrably stunned by his own win, Hale got into character quickly afterwards as he leaped up to follow Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus onstage after she was named winner for best actress in a comedy series. The veteran sitcom star, who previously nabbed Emmys for Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine and an earlier win for Veep, feigned forgetfulness as Hale, who plays her personal aide in the vice-presidential comedy, prompted her.
Meanwhile, the corresponding best lead actor in a comedy trophy also went to a previous winner: Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory, scoring his third Emmy for his turn as oddball physicist Sheldon Cooper.
"I’m very aware of how exceedingly fortunate I am. First, to have a chance to do this role in this show… but secondly to be here to be a part of such a phenomenal group of people," an emotional Parsons said onstage.
"It’s so silly to be emotional, isn’t it?"
In addition to winning for its writing, The Colbert Report also saw its first ever win as best variety series — besting the show that spawned it, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
"As I said before, it’s just an honour to be nominated. And that's a lie. This is way better," host and writer Stephen Colbert noted.
"I personally have to thank my friend and my brother Jon Stewart, who is the one who said 'We should do a show together where you’re a professional idiot.' And Jon never told me how good this feels.“
Extended homages to TV personalities who passed away in the past year were interspersed throughout the proceedings.
Actor Robin Williams offering a tribute to his mentor, comic actor Jonathan Winters, while actor-director Rob Reiner shared a heartfelt remembrance of his "TV mother-in-law," All in the Family's Jean Stapleton. Michael J. Fox's spoke about Family Ties and Spin City creator and his "second father and beloved friend" Gary David Goldberg, while Edie Falco became emotional as she recalled her Sopranos counterpart, actor James Gandolfini. Glee cast member Jane Lynch remembered her late Canadian co-star Cory Monteith.
Before Sunday night's ceremony, TV critics, fans and family members had questioned the segment, which was in addition to the traditional "in memoriam" montage. Some blasted producers for the inclusion of Monteith — who was not a past Emmy nominee and whose role on Glee was the most prominent work of his short career — over more established individuals.
Sunday night's ceremony included musical performances by Elton John, who spoke about the influence of Behind the Candelabra subject Liberace, and Carrie Underwood, who offered a rendition of the Beatles classic Yesterday following a segment highlighting TV’s impact on culture after two major events: the assassination of U.S. president John F. Kennedy and the American debut of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show a half-century ago.
Performances also came courtesy of host Harris, who surprisingly eschewed a song-and-dance number in his opening. Instead, following a montage of clips from the past year in television, he cracked a few jokes before being heckled and subsequently joined onstage by a number of former Emmy emcees, including Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Nevertheless, the famed song-and-dance man delivered at the half-way point by performing a tune he dubbed The Number in the Middle of the Show, which featured cameo appearances by Nathan Fillion and Sarah Silverman. He also performed as part of a subsequent dance number that revealed the choreography nominees.