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Records toppled at the 60th annual Primetime Emmys Sunday as period pieces “Mad Men” and “John Adams” made history and a pair of series extended dominance within their categories to an unprecedented six consecutive years.
Already a ground-breaker thanks merely to its nomination, “Mad Men” became the first basic cable series ever — and for that matter, non-HBO cable series — named best drama or comedy.
The show about a 1960s advertising agency added two Sunday wins to its four Creative Arts Emmy wins last weekend, lifting AMC — a network that only entered the scripted production business a few years ago — to eight awards, equaling the overall annual haul for any ad-supported cabler.
Yet none stood taller than the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” whose 13 Emmys overall broke the record of 11 for a made-for-TV movie or a miniseries, previously shared by “Eleanor and Franklin” (1976) and HBO’s “Angels in America” (2004).
Basic cable’s encroachment into the Emmy derby — the fruits of a concerted push into ambitious drama — could particularly be seen in the drama acting categories. Glenn Close and co-star Zeljko Ivanek both won for FX’s “Damages,” while Bryan Cranston claimed his first Emmy for another AMC series, “Breaking Bad,” playing a dying, drug-dealing teacher.
The highlights and milestones, however, hardly ended there. Both “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Amazing Race” expanded their gaudy winning streaks as variety series and reality competition to six years — topping the previous record of five straight by “Frasier” in the comedy arena.
NBC’s “30 Rock,” meanwhile, parlayed its record-setting 17 nominations into seven trophies, including four big ones Sunday — topped by its second comedy crown, and augmented by honors to stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, as well as producer Fey for writing.
Despite HBO’s loss of clout in the series arena due to increased competition (“Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage” were its only contenders as outstanding comedy or drama), the pay service propped up its total by virtue of its continued dominance in the longform balloting. HBO amassed 26 awards this Emmy season, more than double its nearest competitor, ABC, which notched three wins Sunday and a dozen in all.
The $100-million-plus, seven-part historical epic “Adams,” based on David McCullough’s dense biography, came into the main telecast with eight trophies from the Creative Arts Emmys, including cinematography, costumes and visual effects. In addition to outstanding miniseries it added victories for Paul Giamatti in the title role, Laura Linney as Abigail Adams, Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin, and writer Kirk Ellis.
“Recount” – the fact-based chronicle of the 2000 election – garnered enough support from Emmy voters to provide the pay channel with the outstanding movie vote a staggering 14th time in the last 16 years, along with directing honors for Jay Roach.
With the Tom Hanks-produced “Adams” and “Recount” leading the charge, HBO staged a near-sweep of Sunday’s movie categories – denied only by Dame Eileen Atkins’ supporting win for PBS’ miniseries “Cranford.”
HBO’s diverse menu has sustained its status as the most-honored network for what’s now eight years, including a pair of ties with NBC back when that streak began.
Buffeted by cable, the four broadcast networks were limited to 10 wins in the 28 televised categories. Moreover, four of those went to “30 Rock,” which is struggling not to be the next “Arrested Development,” a low-rated Emmy darling that couldn’t drum up enough viewers to survive on Fox.
NBC has retaken its mantle as the home for comedy, securing the leading honor three years in a row beginning with “The Office” in 2006.
Although “The Daily Show” maintained its stranglehold as best variety show, Comedy Central companion “The Colbert Report” also broke through in the writing competition.
In the acting categories, Jeremy Piven received his third straight Emmy for the role of frenetic agent Ari Gold in “Entourage,” expressing gratitude amid what are “strange times for all of us.” Jean Smart also took home a third statuette, but hers, for ABC’s “Samantha Who?,” follows previous guest-actress wins for “Frasier.” “In Treatment’s” Dianne Wiest, meanwhile, twinned her last Emmy that came nearly two decades ago for “Road to Avonlea.”
A newly created reality host category (saved, notably, to showcase as the evening’s last performer award) went, perhaps appropriately, to “Survivor’s” Jeff Probst – the category’s elder statesman, who joined his fellow nominees in hosting the ceremony.
Given the proximity to November’s election, there were several general calls encouraging viewers to vote – including one from “The West Wing” star Martin Sheen — as well as a few moments where Democratic partisanship reared its head, albeit in mostly oblique ways.
Jon Stewart stressed how much he was looking forward to a new administration, and Linney also referenced how the miniseries focused on the “community organizers that helped found our country,” alluding to attacks on Barack Obama.
The Emmys are presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and were staged for the first time under a multiyear agreement with the Nokia Theater. Whatever the telecast’s merits, ratings are likely to take a potential hit from competing against a marquee Dallas-Green Bay Sunday night football match-up in much of the country.
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