Emmy voters favored heat, prestige and sentimental sendoffs on Sunday as an eclectic list of winners defied many expectations. But the undisputed champion of the night was HBO, which pulled off an unprecedented sweep of the drama (“Game of Thrones”), comedy (“Veep”), limited series (“Olive Kitteridge”) and movie (“Bessie”) at the 67th annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
The issue of diversity was discussed during the telecast and it was evident in the winners list, with “How to Get Away with Murder” star Viola Davis making Emmy history as the first African-American to win a lead drama actress trophy. Regina King (of ABC’s “American Crime”) and Uzo Aduba (of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”) also earned supporting trophies.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said with her trademark intonation. She cited the famous Harriet Tubman quote about the struggle to “get over that line,” and praised ABC and “HTGAWM” exec producers Peter Nowalk and Shonda Rhimes for busting stereotypes with meaty roles for actresses of color. “You cannot win Emmys for roles that are simply not there,” he said.
Two wins for “Transparent” also put the issue of civil rights for transgender people in the spotlight thanks to emotional acceptance speeches from creator Jill Soloway, who won for comedy directing, and Jeffrey Tambor, who won for lead comedy actor.
The biggest surprise of the night may have been the dominance of “Game of Thrones,” which set an Emmy record for the most wins by a program in a single year, besting the mark of nine previously held by NBC’s “The West Wing.”
In addition to drama series honors it scored wins for drama writing (for creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) and directing (David Nutter) — a recognition of the fantasy series’ undeniable popularity and the scale of the production.
Benioff noted the enormity of the effort that it takes to produce “Thrones” and the fertile imagination of George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series on which it was based. And he gave one of many shout-outs of the night to HBO, “for believing in dragons.”
Political comedy “Veep” has long been an industry favorite but was seen as a dark horse for the top series win. The love extended to star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ fourth consecutive win for the role, plus wins for supporting comedy actor Tony Hale and for comedy writing.
“Olive Kitteridge” was Emmy-bait from get-go with its stellar cast, literary pedigree and Oscar-nommed Lisa Cholodenko at the helm. The four-hour mini won the most awards of any program during Sunday’s telecast with six. “Game of Thrones” collected the most trophies overall with 12, including four on Sunday and eight at the Sept. 12 Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
All told, HBO bagged 43 Emmy wins during this year’s race, followed by NBC with 12, Comedy Central and FX Networks with eight apiece and ABC with six.
“Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm was the sentimental favorite in the very competitive lead drama actor category and voters did not deny him the gold in his final season of eligibility for a singular performance in the period drama. But the same did not hold true in the supporting drama actor race, where industryites would have bet on a win for “Better Call Saul’s” Jonathan Banks, but it was “Thrones’ “ Peter Dinklage who was called to the stage.
Hamm was clearly humbled as he took the long-awaited recognition from presenter Tina Fey, after he skipped over the steps and throw himself onto the stage torso first. He reeled off a long list of personal thank-yous. He took a Don Draper-like pause and concluded: “Thank you to everyone who watched the show, and thank you for this.”
Emmy voters also gave a big send off to the farewell season “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” with nods for writing and directing in a variety series as well as for variety series.
Stewart joked about his adjustment to post-“Daily Show” life by noting that he hadn’t heard any applause in about seven weeks. “Thank you so very much,” he said humbly. “You will never have to see me again.”
Allison Janney’s win for supporting comedy actress for CBS’ “Mom,” which revolves around a mother and daughter who are recovering alcoholics, set the tone early that Emmy voters were of a mind to recognize high-minded fare.
“Lots of people are touched by addiction,” Janney said in accepting her award. “It’s a privilege to work on a show that reminds us there is hope — lots of hope.”
Janney’s win, her second consecutive for the role, makes her No. 3 on the list of Emmy’s most honored actors behind Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore. She thanked “Mom” co-creator Chuck Lorre for creating “a deeply flawed character and immediately thinking of me to play her.”
“Olive Kitteridge’s” McDormand and Cholodenko were quick to hail HBO for supporting a project with no pyrotechnics, no sex or violence — just the stuff of real life among a quirky family in Maine.
“We’re all here because of the power of a story well told. Sometimes, that’s enough,” McDormand said in a short and sweet Emmy speech that followed the wins for Cholodenko and writer Jane Anderson. The win for McDormand, who has an Oscar and Tony in her trophy case, puts her one award away — the Grammy — from showbiz’s coveted EGOT status.
“Making this four-hour movie was a metaphysical, supernatural, transpersonal dark-night-of-the-soul kind of experience — so I’m glad it was a comedy,” Cholodenko joked about the adaptation of Elizabeth Strout novel. The project had the prestige that tends to be Emmy bait.
HBO’s “Veep” came on strong early on with the win for comedy writing by the British trio of Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche, followed by Hale’s win for supporting comedy actor.
“We’d like to thank HBO for letting us come over here and make fun of American politics and make American money,” Blackwell quipped.
Despite the craven behavior that most of the characters on “Veep” display, Hale assured the crowd that the cast and producers are “good people. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
“Transparent” creator/exec producer Jill Soloway made an impassioned plea for viewers to support equality for transgender people as she accepted her award for directing. She noted that there are still 32 states with laws on the books that would allow landlords to refuse to rent an apartment to a trans person. She called for support for a trans equality bill that is aiming to gather public support via the transequality.org website.
If there was a sure thing in this year’s Emmy race, it was Tambor’s win for lead comedy actor for “Transparent,” the first TV series to revolve around a transgender character and the coming out process for a family. Tambor was visibly moved as he accepted his first career Emmy, after seven nominations. He dedicated his win to the transgender community. “Thank you for your patience, thank you for your courage, thank you for your stories, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for letting us be part of the change,” Tambor said.
Backstage, Tambor expressed his gratitude for the role in “Transparent.” He’s been a character actor and second banana for decades, and he knows what a rarity it is to have a role with true impact beyond the screen.
“With laughter and real humor you can kill prejudice and keep it far away,” Tambor said. “I’ve always thought that’s what we’re supposed to do (as actors).” He described hearing from people who watched “Transparent” to better understand a family member of friend who has come out as trans. And those experiences have taught him that the series has had real reach, even if Amazon is still a fledgling player in TV.
“We think this show would only be attractive to (viewers in) New York or L.A. — but this lands,” he said. “It’s important to me.”
Louis-Dreyfus’ fourth consecutive win for “Veep” puts her in league with Helen Hunt, who logged a four-peat of wins for “Mad About You” from 1996-99. Louis-Dreyfus cracked the second Donald Trump joke of the night and added: “It’s getting trickier and trickier to satirize this stuff.” Louis-Dreyfus has a total of six trophies thanks to past wins from “Seinfeld” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Amy Schumer also added another accolade to her busy year. Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” was another victor for variety sketch series in the first year that sketch comedies were separated from talk-variety series. “We care so much about this show,” Schumer said. “I’m so proud of this show. It fights for what we believe in.”
Emmy host Andy Samberg, star of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” opened the Fox telecast with a taped musical, “I Watched Every Show,” number that poked fun at everything from binge viewing to the debate over diversity in TV. The telecast featured a surprise appearance by comedian Tracy Morgan, who was severely injured in a car crash 15 months ago when his vehicle was hit on the New Jersey turnpike by a Walmart truck. (Morgan has since reached a legal settlement with the retail giant.)
Morgan got a standing ovation, and offered emotional thank-you to industry colleagues and fans for their support. But he also proved that he hasn’t lost his comic instincts.
“I suffered a traumatic brain injury that put me in coma for eight days,” he said. “When I regained consciousness I was just ecstatic to learn that I wasn’t the one who messed up.”