Emmy Awards: Surprises, upsets and memorable moments

A new queen of comedy, surprising upsets, a history-making award and the inevitable win for Game of Thrones: the 2019 Emmy Awards offered night of wins as fractured as the current TV landscape. 

Billy Porter wins Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series, Fleabag takes several trophies

A historic win: Billy Porter poses with the Emmy Award for lead actor in a drama series in Los Angeles Sunday. He is the first openly gay winner in the category. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

A new queen of comedy, surprising upsets, a history-making award and the inevitable win for Game of Thrones: the 2019 Emmy Awards offered night of wins as fractured as the current TV landscape.

The hostless, three-hour show was both funny and head-scratching, depending on what point you tuned in. 

Producers won some solid laughs by putting reliable performers such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Maya Rudolph and late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel onstage, but the decision to dispense with traditional voiceover narration and orchestra playing people onstage (in favour of comedian Thomas Lennon's commentary and contemporary tracks) made for some awkward moments. 

Here are some Emmy highlights in a night dominated by wins for cable network HBO and streaming platforms Amazon and Netflix:

Fleabag's wins

Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the giant-slayer Sunday night, with the British writer, performer and creator scoring three trophies for her critically acclaimed Amazon series Fleabag, a dark comedy centred on what she called a "dirty, pervy, messed up," London woman navigating life after tragedy.

Fleabag creator, writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge poses with her three Emmys. Her dark comedy also won a fourth Emmy for direction. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Waller-Bridge won best writing in a comedy series early on, and eventually added best comedy and best lead actress in a comedy. The latter two categories were widely expected to go to the beloved and recently concluded satire Veep and its star Louis-Dreyfus. Waller-Bridge's wins in those categories blocked the Seinfeld alum from becoming the most decorated Emmy winner ever. Fleabag also won for its direction. 

"This is just getting ridiculous," the thoroughly delighted Brit declared upon winning the penultimate award of the night.

She also gets bonus points for her ties to another surprise winner: Waller-Bridge got a shout-out from Killing Eve's Jodie Comer (who won over her co-star, Canadian Sandra Oh, in the best lead actress in a drama category). Waller-Bridge served as head writer of the spy thriller's first season.

'I have the right to be here'

A striking addition to any red carpet, Billy Porter from FX's ball culture drama Pose made history as the first openly gay man to win the Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series. In his acceptance speech, he delivered a message that was both exuberant and powerful.

"It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I'd been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here," Porter said, quoting writer and activist James Baldwin.

"I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."

Sunday night's Emmy also puts the previous Tony- and Grammy-winner on the path toward EGOT status, with just an Academy Award left for Porter to win.

'Listen to her'

It wouldn't be an award show without performers making impassioned pleas (Patricia Arquette took time to call out the persecution of trans people, while RuPaul urged Americans to vote). Fosse/Verdon star Michelle Williams addressed the issue of pay equity in accepting her award for best actress in a limited series or TV movie.

"I see this [award] as an acknowledgement of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feels safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they will be heard," she said, adding that Fosse/Verdon's network FX "understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value.

Michelle Williams accepts the lead actress in a limited series or movie award for Fosse/Verdon. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"And where do they put that value? They put it into their work. And so when the next woman and especially a woman of colour — because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart — tells you what she needs in order to do her job: listen to her. Believe her." 

In 2017, the four-time Oscar nominee made headlines when it emerged that her All the Money in the World co-star Mark Wahlberg received $1.5 million (all figures U.S.) to do re-shoots for the drama, while she received less than $1,000.

"The discrepancy … was so huge that it really illustrated a larger point. Not just for myself, obviously, but if it was this difficult for me — a white woman in a privileged industry — how difficult is it for women of colour across all industries?" Williams added backstage in the Emmys press room.

"While tonight is a kind of fairy-tale ending for me and for my own personal story, there really won't be any satisfaction for me until the larger message is heard.

The Exonerated Five

The Microsoft Theater erupted in cheers and a standing ovation when Jharrel Jerome was announced winner of best lead actor in a limited series for When They See Us, Ava DuVernay's series on the infamous Central Park Five case, in which five black and Latino teens were coerced into confessing to a rape they didn't commit.

The memorable Emmys moment acknowledged both young rising star Jerome's performance in the searing Netflix four-parter as well as the five exonerated men, who attended the awards show alongside Duvernay.

"This is for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and King Korey Wise," Jerome declared. 

'We shall never see its like again'

Perhaps an acknowledgement of the divisive final season of Game of Thrones, the sprawling fantasy epic didn't set a new record with how many trophies it added to its already mammoth haul for the previous seven seasons. Its dozen wins this year, largely awarded during last week's Creative Arts Emmys, tied the show's previous record for most Emmys won by a series in a single season.

Best writing and direction in a drama series — two major awards Game of Thrones has claimed in the past — went to HBO's Succession and Netflix's Ozark (respectively) in 2019.

Members of the cast of Game of Thrones pose for a selfie behind the scenes at the 2019 Emmy Awards (Alfie Allen/Instagram)

Even the decision to unite the cast as Emmy presenters didn't go over as well as expected, with superfans noting the clutch of GoT actors at the ceremony not invited to share the stage. 

Still, the legacy of the game-changing HBO series (and Peter Dinklage's indelible performance) proved insurmountable: the show was crowned best drama series and Dinklage picked up a fourth acting Emmy.

"These last ten years have been the best years of our lives," showrunner David Benioff declared onstage.

"I can't believe we finished it. I can't believe we did it all together and it's over. We shall never see its like again."

And while "You know nothing, Jon Snow" became a popular Game of Thrones meme, the actor behind that character says he and his castmates knew the ending was right.

"Everyone put all of their love and effort into [the final series]," Kit Harington noted backstage.

"I think for us, we knew what we were doing was right, story-wise. And that it was right for the characters because we lived with them for 10 years."


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