The TV academy, criticized for years as staid and out of touch with what viewers actually watch, swept in a new era Sunday night with a live-across-the-nation Emmy show that handed a total of six prizes to ABC’s first-year “Modern Family,” including best comedy, as well as trophies to first-time winners Kyra Sedgwick of TNT’s “The Closer” and Archie Panjabi of CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
But Emmy voters didn’t totally dismiss the past: AMC’s little-watched but much-acclaimed paean to 1960s advertising culture, " Mad Men,” took home its third straight award for best drama.
“It was completely unexpected,” Jon Hamm, who plays ad man Don Draper on “Mad Men,” told reporters backstage. “The quality of the nominees this season, more than ever, has been phenomenal.”
At the three-hour telecast, hosted by Jimmy Fallon and aired on NBC, Showtime won seven awards, the most in its 34-year history, making it competitive with NBC (eight). Both lagged far behind the 25 for industry leader HBO, whose Tom Hanks-produced miniseries “The Pacific” alone won eight, making it this year’s most-honored program. Among the Showtime honorees was Edie Falco, who produced a jaw-dropping upset with her title role on the bittersweet comedy “Nurse Jackie.” Falco thus became the first woman to win lead actress awards in both comedy and drama (she was a three-time winner as mob wife Carmela Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos”).
“This is the most ridiculous thing that has ever happened in the history of this lovely awards show,” Falco said in her acceptance speech. “I am not funny!”
NBC telecast the ceremony live to the West Coast for the first time since 1976. In a move that may hurt its final audience numbers, the awards program was broadcast during a traditionally sleepy viewing month in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with NFL football, a ratings powerhouse for the network.
After seven straight years, voters finally booted CBS’ “The Amazing Race” from the winners’ platform in the reality category and instead honored Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
Another surprise was the broad snub for ABC’s " Lost,” which was nominated 12 times for its heavily publicized final season but won just once, in an editing category. However, fans could console themselves by remembering that the desert-island thriller did win the top drama prize for its first season back in 2005.
Fox’s high-school musical “Glee,” another odds-on favorite, lost to “Modern Family” as best comedy but did scoop up four awards, including a supporting nod for Jane Lynch, who plays the villainous coach Sue Sylvester. The hour-long “Glee” may have been somewhat disadvantaged in a category typically dominated by half-hour shows. If it had won as best comedy, it would have been the first one-hour series to do so since “Ally McBeal” in 1999.
But the most meaningful triumph may have belonged to “Modern Family,” the first family sitcom to take the top prize since CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 2005, and the first ABC sitcom to do so since “The Wonder Years” 22 years ago.
The “Modern Family” win offers a huge morale boost to broadcast TV, which has spent much of the past decade fretting about the decline of hit sitcoms, which have underwritten the network/studio business model for decades. At last year’s Emmys, Julia Louis-Dreyfus joked that she was honored to be presenting an award “on the last official year of network television.”
There was no such sense of foreboding at this year’s show. In fact, broadcasters have remained comparatively strong in comedies, at least compared with the dramatic categories, which the onslaught of basic-cable shows increasingly dominates. This year’s comedy crop was especially competitive, with three new series — “Modern Family,” “Glee” and Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” — squaring off against established favorites: HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and NBC’s “The Office” and " 30 Rock.”
As that list suggests, cable programs are not about to disappear from the categories any time soon. Indeed, the last year that broadcast swept the nominations for best comedy was 2005.
Meanwhile, the dramatic field reflected a typical Emmy mix of the new and familiar. CBS’ legal procedural “The Good Wife” was nominated in its first year of eligibility. HBO’s “True Blood” is about to wrap up its third season, but this was its first year in the drama category.
However, Showtime’s “Dexter” has been nominated three years straight without taking home the top prize, and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” has now failed to win two years running. ABC’s “Lost” won in 2005, its first year of eligibility, but had faded from the nominee roster until this year.
Overall, Sunday’s ceremony was infused with a sense of new programs and faces coming into their own.
Alluding to “30 Rock,” the NBC sitcom that had logged three straight wins as best comedy, Steve Levitan, the victorious executive producer of “Modern Family,” observed: “It doesn’t give me tremendous joy to break their streak. I still love it.”