LOS ANGELES – Breaking Bad, the brutal saga of an everyman’s ambition turned evil, captured its first best drama Emmy Award on Sunday, while Modern Family won its fourth consecutive trophy for top comedy series.
“I did not see this coming,” said Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, tipping his hat to competitor “House of Cards,” the first online contender for top Emmy honors.
Jeff Daniels won the Emmy for best drama series actor for his portrayal of an idealistic TV anchorman in The Newsroom, with Claire Danes capturing top actress honors for her troubled CIA agent in Homeland.
Daniels noted that he’d also received an age 50-plus acting honor from AARP, which represents the interests of older Americans.
“With all due respect to the AARP, this is even better,” Daniels said.
Danes, who captured her second trophy for the terrorism drama, paid tribute to one of the series’ writers, Henry Bromell, who died last March and who received a writing Emmy posthumously 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.
It also included upsets, defying the conventional wisdom in several categories, including acting categories.
“This just in. Nobody in America is winning their Emmy office pool. Surprises galore,” host Neil Patrick Harris.
Danes’ win ended the hopes that Scandal star and best actress nominee Kerry Washington would become the first African-American to win in the category since Cicely Tyson in 1995 for Sweet Justice.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus claimed her second consecutive best comedy actress award for her role as an ambitious political second banana in Veep, with Jim Parsons again claiming the top comedy acting trophy for The Big Bang Theory.
“This is so much good fortune it’s almost too much to bear,” said Louis-Dreyfus. “I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to make people laugh. It’s a joyful way to make a living.”
Parsons added to the awards he won in 2011 and 2010 for the role of a science nerd.
“My heart, oh my heart. I want you to know I’m very aware of how exceedingly fortunate I am,” he said.
Merritt Wever of Nurse Jackie won the night’s first award, for best supporting actress in a comedy series, kicking off the ceremony on a surprising note and with a remarkably brief acceptance speech.
“Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um, I got to go, bye,” Wever told the audience after besting a field that included two-time winner Julie Bowen of Modern Family.
“Merritt Wever, best speech ever,” host Neil Patrick Harris said.
Backstage, she offered an explanation: “I’m sorry I didn’t thank anyone. I was going to cry.”
Tony Hale of Veep claimed the trophy for best supporting actor in a comedy, a category that has been the property in recent years of the men of Modern Family.
“Oh, man…. This is mindblowing, mindblowing,” Hale said.
Laura Linney was named best actress in a miniseries or movie for The Big C: Hereafter. The Voice won best reality-competition program, and Tina Fey won for writing 30 Rock.
Michael Douglas was honored as best actor in a movie or miniseries for his portrayal of Liberace in Behi nd the Candelabra, besting his co-star Matt Damon. The film also captured a top trophy as best movie or miniseries.
“This is a two-hander and Matt, you’re only as good as your other hand,” Douglas said, then got really racy: “You want the bottom or the top?”
Bobby Cannavale, from Boardwalk Empire, won as best supporting actor in a drama, and Anna Gunn from Breaking Bad won the best actress award in the same category.
Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars won the trophy for best choreography, which offered an opportunity to include an upbeat dance number late in the show.
In the variety show category, The Colbert Report broke a 10-year winning streak held by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It also won for best writing for a variety show.