"Breaking Bad," a harrowing look at an American dream gone terribly wrong, was honored as television's best drama Sunday night during a 65th annual Emmy Awards ceremony riddled with surprises.
The AMC series about a meek chemistry teacher turned murderous drug kingpin has been one of primetime's most celebrated shows over five seasons, but this was the first time it earned the top prize -- just as it speeds toward a cataclysmic ending.
"Holy crap, I did not see this coming," said creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan.
"Breaking Bad" also scored a first-time Emmy for Anna Gunn, who plays the embattled wife of meth-maker Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
The men of "Breaking Bad" didn't fare as well. Cranston, who already has three trophies, was beaten by Jeff Daniels, a surprise winner in the lead actor category for HBO's "The Newsroom." And Aaron Paul lost supporting actor to Bobby Cannavale, who won for "Boardwalk Empire."
Also left out in the cold was Netflix. The streaming giant, which made history by capturing the first major nominations for online-only shows, picked up just one prize -- a directing nod for David Fincher ("House of Cards"). Apparently, voters believed it was an honor just to be nominated.
As usual, the TV academy's voters had the capacity to both surprise and confound. So often given to reruns, they did indeed honor "Modern Family" as top comedy for a fourth straight year, despite a season that, creatively, wasn't up to par. They bestowed predictable wins upon Claire Danes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jim Parsons.
Danes captured her second straight prize as a lead actress in a drama for playing bedeviled CIA analyst Carrie Mathison in "Homeland." Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory") nabbed his third prize as lead actor in a comedy, and Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep") was a repeat winner.
It was the fourth trophy overall for Louis-Dreyfus, who is making a strong case for being the greatest comic actress of her generation. She's the only TV comedy performer to have won for three different shows, with "Seinfeld" and "The New Adventures of the Old Christine" being the other two.
TV's big bash also featured more surprises than usual. How surprising? Any time "The Amazing Race" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" don't win, you know there's something in the air.
In addition to "Breaking Bad," Gunn, Daniels and Cannavale, the Emmy newbies included Merritt Wever ("Nurse Jackie") and Tony Hale ("Veep"), who took home the prizes as supporting actress and actor in a comedy.
Wever was so stunned by her win that she was literally rendered speechless.
"Thank you so much," she said. "I gotta go. Bye."
Meanwhile, "The Voice" took the prize as best reality-competition program, beating out "The Amazing Race," which has long dominated the category. "The Colbert Report" was also a first-time winner as best variety series, topping "The Daily Show," the program that spawned it. "The Daily Show" had captured 10 previous victories.
"Jon never told me how good this feels," a happy Stephen Colbert said.
All the upsets captured the attention of amiable host Neil Patrick Harris, who remarked, "This just in. No one in America is winning their Emmy office pool. ... Surprises galore."
In his second stint as Emmy host, Harris was exuberant and unflappable as usual, bringing his song-and-dance dazzle to a classy, if less-than-captivating ceremony.
The telecast took on a somber tone at times with tributes to TV standouts who died in the past year. Among them was Jane Lynch's quiet tribute to "Glee" star Cory Monteith, who died of a drug overdose last summer.
"Cory was a beautiful soul," she said. Some questioned whether Monteith deserved to be singled out when longtime television icons such as Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman were not.
Some things never change: Cable again dominated the awards over broadcast television, with HBO capturing three major prizes for "Behind the Candelabra," a glitzy Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.
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