Emmy honored a collection of fresh faces Sunday night, bringing new blood to a kudosfest frequently criticized for sticking with the old guard.
That included a frosh sitcom with low ratings but big acclaim — NBC’s “30 Rock” — and a trio of young actresses who rep a new generation of TV stars: “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera, “Grey’s Anatomy” cast member Katherine Heigl and “My Name Is Earl” thesp Jaime Pressly.
The three actresses’ big wins helped keep Emmy voters from looking conservative and out of touch — as some of their other picks may have suggested. The field of Emmy nominations, with a few exceptions, were considered to be fairly accurate.
Ferrera scored one of the biggest surprises of the night, beating out Felicity Huffman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary-Louise Parker for the top comedy actress prize.
“It is truly an amazing, wonderful thing that happens when your dreams come true,” Ferrera said. “I wish that for everybody — they get to do what inspires them.”
Ferrera also beat out Tina Fey — who quickly forgot about that disappointment when “30 Rock” landed another one of the night’s big shockers — winning the comedy series award.
“I want to thank the parents, child, spouse and gay partner of every person that works on our show for letting us go missing for nine months to make these shows,” said Fey, who won an Emmy in 2002 for “Saturday Night Live.”
Heigl and Pressly, meanwhile, scored supporting actress nods in drama and comedy, respectively.
“Here’s to our little engine that could that finally did,” Pressly said, thanking her reps.
Heigl called the win “my dream come true.”
“My own mother told me I didn’t have a shot in hell of winning tonight, so I really don’t have anything prepared,” Heigl quipped.
Also onstage for the first time: “Lost’s” Terry O’Quinn, who won for supporting actor.
Even a handful of familiar faces can finally add the top TV prize to their mantle, as “Broken Trail” actor Robert Duvall and supporting thesp Thomas Haden Church scored their first-ever Emmys.
Most surprisingly, “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” finally won its first-ever Emmy, for variety, music or comedy program writing.
“I do have a speech because Katherine Heigl’s mother said we would win,” “Late Night” exec producer Mike Sweeney said.
“Extras” star Ricky Gervais landed an Emmy for comedic actor — his first as a thesp, although he won one last year when the U.S. version of “The Office” was named best comedy.
Of course, Emmy voters being Emmy voters, they couldn’t resist sticking with a few tried-and-true choices, including once again giving the top drama actor prize to “Boston Legal’s” James Spader, passing on a chance to honor “The Sopranos’ ” James Gandolfini one more time.
“Oh my goodness, I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the Mob,” Spader said.
Then there are Emmy’s two unrelenting streaks: “The Amazing Race” won its fifth consecutive award for outstanding reality competition series, while “The Daily Show” is now five-for-five in the best variety/music/comedy category.