Television's biggest night is often its most unpredictable – even if the 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by a saccharine Seth Meyers, let several perennial favorites take home awards. Indeed, if the 2014 Emmys will go down in history for anything, it will be for putting the brakes on Matthew McConaughey's winning streak, as Bryan Cranston walked away with the top acting honor.
Indeed, it was a big night for Cranston and the final season of Breaking Bad, which cleaned up at the awards show in the drama categories – including Outstanding Series and Lead Actor for its star. Things were a little more spread out on the comedy side, with Modern Family taking top honors for a series and The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons and Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning yet again in the lead acting categories.
For the first time in almost 30 years, the telecast aired on a Monday (and also a month earlier) instead of the usual Sunday night slot in order to avoid competition from the MTV Video Music Awards and football season. "That's right, MTV still has an awards show for music videos, even though they no longer show videos. That's like network TV holding an awards show and giving all the trophies to cable and Netflix," Meyers quipped in his opening monologue. To some extent, his words rang true.
As Outstanding Drama Series (for only the second time), AMC's Breaking Bad bested Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men and True Detective. And, as if righting the perceived wrongs of last year's ceremony, Cranston won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama (after surprisingly losing to The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels in 2013) and Bad's Aaron Paul nabbed Outstanding Supporting Actor (which last went to Boardwalk Empire's Bobby Cannavale in an upset).
In the lead actor category, Cranston beat Daniels, McConaughey (True Detective), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men). This is the seventh straight year Hamm has lost for his role as Don Draper, giving him the unenviable distinction of being the most-nominated actor in the category without a win. Before handing out the award, presenter Julia Roberts called it "a horrible category" to compete in. "Even I thought about voting for Matthew," Cranston joked about presumed frontrunner McConaughey before calling tortured character Walter White "the role of a lifetime."
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama went to The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, her third overall win (two for playing Alicia Florrick on the show). Her triumph blocked Scandal's Kerry Washington from becoming the first African-American to win the category. Despite that, Margulies called it "a wonderful time for women on television."
Over in comedy, Modern Family won Outstanding Series, tying it with Emmy darling Frasier as the only shows with five top prizes. (Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd also produced the long-running Cheers spinoff.) It beat out such high-profile series as The Big Bang Theory, Louie, Orange Is the New Black and Veep.
Big Bang's Parsons won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy for the fourth time, putting him in a four-way tie for most wins ever in the category (against TV greats Michael J. Fox, Kelsey Grammer and Carroll O'Connor). "Oh, wow. I really don't believe this," Parsons said before thanking his late father and fellow nominees, which included Ricky Gervais, Louis C.K. and William H. Macy.
Meanwhile, five-time Parks and Recreation nominee Amy Poehler walked away empty-handed yet again in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy category, as Louis-Dreyfus nabbed her third consecutive win for her role on Veep (also toppling Melissa McCarthy and Edie Falco, among others). On her way up to the podium, Louis-Dreyfus mock made out with Cranston, in a nod to a presenter bit the two did earlier in the evening about how she didn't remember him playing love interest Tim Whatley on Seinfeld. Louis-Dreyfus is now one trophy away from tying for the most wins ever in the category.
In the supporting categories, Breaking Bad's Paul won his third Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama statuette. "I feel like I'm going to throw up," Paul admitted before adding of the now-defunct show, "My God, Breaking Bad has changed my life." On the women’s side, the award went to Bad's Anna Gunn, her second consecutive win.
For comedy, Modern Family's Ty Burrell won Outstanding Supporting Actor for a second time, once again beating his long-suffering Emmy also-ran co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who has never won despite five nods. Meanwhile, Allison Janney took home the supporting actress trophy for her role in Mom, over the likes of Big Bang's Mayim Bialik and Modern Family's Julie Bowen.
Fargo scored Outstanding Miniseries, despite all of its nominated cast losing (including lead actor Billy Bob Thornton, who lost to Sherlock: His Last Vow's Benedict Cumberbatch, who wasn't on hand to pick up the award).
Outstanding Television Movie went to the autobiographical HIV-AIDS drama The Normal Heart, which also failed in the acting categories – including losses for stars Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer and Parsons. Ruffalo lost to Cumberbatch, while Roberts succumbed to Kathy Bates for her role in American Horror Story: Coven. Beating out four stars of The Normal Heart, including Parsons and Bomer along with his Fargo co-star Colin Hanks, also-absent Martin Freeman won Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for playing Dr. Watson in Sherlock: His Last Vow. Meanwhile, Jessica Lange bested Cicely Tyson, Helena Bonham Carter and Kristen Wiig for Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for American Horror Story: Coven. Lange admitted she was "profoundly surprised by but very grateful" for the win.
The Colbert Report won Outstanding Variety Series for the second time, trumping 10-time winner The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and first-timer The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. As an indication of what kind of relationship the soon-to-be competing late-night talk show hosts will have once Colbert takes over The Late Show, Fallon jumped onstage to intercept the trophy, launching into a bit where Colbert whispered in his ear what to say, including the only bleep of the night.
In addition to the annual In Memoriam montage, there was a touching tribute to actor/comedian Robin Williams, who committed suicide on Aug. 11. Sara Bareilles sang "Smile" before Williams' longtime friend Billy Crystal gave a heartwarming speech filled with heart-tugging, inspirational and funny anecdotes. "It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all our lives," Crystal said of Williams, before encouraging people to look up at the stars and think, "Robin Williams, what a concept." It was more of an uplifting remembrance than a sad one, probably just how Williams would have wanted it.