Emmys 2014: The 'McConaissance' loses steam, thanks to Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston single-handedly puts an end to the 'McConaissance'

Going into Monday night's Emmys, most pundits predicted that Matthew McConaughey would clinch the prize for lead actor in a drama series for his portrayal of haunted Louisiana cop Rust Cohle in HBO's brooding murder mystery "True Detective."

The win would have capped off a transformational year for McConaughey, who took home an Oscar in March for his role as a swaggering AIDS patient fighting for access to unapproved drugs in the best picture nominee "Dallas Buyers Club."

The 44-year-old Texan first gained notice in the '90s with roles in the stoner comedy "Dazed and Confused" and the legal thriller "A Time to Kill," but as recently as a few years ago his star had faded after a string of lackluster romantic comedies that traded on his toned physique -- and not much else.

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But with risk-taking turns in such films as Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" and Richard Linklater's "Bernie," the actor has forged a remarkable career turnaround. "True Detective," McConaughey's first regular series role for television (not to mention a project from a then-unproven writer with a few credits to his name) marked another bold move for the star.

A victory Monday would not only have completed the so-called "McConaissance," it would have also made history: Only one actor, George C. Scott, has won both awards in the same year. He was honored for "Patton" and the TV drama "The Price" in 1971 but declined to accept either prize in person.

But it was not to be: Instead, Bryan Cranston took home his fourth and final Emmy for his role as Walter White on AMC's "Breaking Bad." 

In a controversial move, HBO submitted "True Detective" in the drama series category rather than as a miniseries, even though the first eight-episode season focused on a single, close-ended narrative and future seasons will feature an entirely different cast, setting and story line.

The strategy met with mixed results: While Cary Joji Fukunaga was honored for his directing, writer Nic Pizzolatto and costar Woody Harrelson, in addition to McConaughey, went home empty-handed.

"Even I thought about voting for Matthew," Cranston said in accepting the trophy, and it wasn't clear he was kidding. Throughout the night, it seemed as if virtually everyone at the Nokia Theatre was rooting for a McConaughey triumph. The camera repeatedly cut away to the actor and his wife, Camila Alves, in the audience, while Jimmy Kimmel joked that everyone was sick of hearing the actor's occasionally rambling acceptance speeches in a way that suggested the opposite was true. 

Even an onstage bit in which Harrelson razzed his costar for being "greedy" when it comes to awards, seemed to anticipate a McConaughey win.  

Instead, on a night in which previous winners dominated in nearly every category, McConaughey learned a bitter truth known by many an also-ran: At the Emmys, time truly is a flat circle.  

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