‘Breaking Bad’ tops Emmys amid many upsets

In an Emmy night marked by both jaw-dropping upsets and predictably safe choices, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan summed up the wild mood swings at TV’s top awards ceremony this year.

“I thought this was gonna be [for] ‘House of Cards,’” Gilligan said with a smile as his series about a chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer took the prize for best drama series at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Indeed, some observers wondered whether the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which organizes the Emmys, might honor Netflix’s acclaimed tale of political intrigue starring Kevin Spacey as a corrupt member of Congress as the first Internet-distributed series to attain TV’s top echelon.


But in the end, voters saluted AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” a critically beloved series that is wrapping its run in spectacular style this month — and as it happened, aired its penultimate episode opposite the Emmys on CBS. It was the show’s first win in the category. Anna Gunn also won a supporting actress award for the series.

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The statuettes for “Breaking Bad” were hardly a surprise. The online sports betting site Bovada correctly predicted “Breaking Bad” would win the drama category, with 2-to-5 odds. (AMC’s period piece “Mad Men” rated last, at 40-to-1.)

But elsewhere, assumptions had to be tossed out the window, with several winners eliciting did-I-just-hear-that-right reactions across social media.

The back-and-forth underlined the fact that although Hollywood may indeed be celebrating a new golden age of television — as some winners said — the TV academy is struggling with where to put the appropriate accents. Even honoring the dead proved problematic.

Emmy organizers decided to beef up the “In Memoriam” tributes to honor notable figures such as James Gandolfini and Jean Stapleton, but some critics complained that the resulting two-minute speeches felt intrusive and downbeat amid the general tone of celebration.

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As for the upsets, virtually no one expected movie, theater and TV vet Jeff Daniels to take home a best actor prize for “The Newsroom,” the Aaron Sorkin drama on HBO. Reviews and ratings have been underwhelming, and the network hasn’t even officially renewed the show.

What’s more, the competition included Spacey’s talked-about turn in “House of Cards” and Bryan Cranston, who had won three times previously for “Breaking Bad.” Daniels himself seemed caught off-guard.

“Well, crap,” the actor said after he ascended to the podium to pick up his award.

An even bigger upset was scored by Bobby Cannavale, who won as supporting actor on HBO’s Prohibition drama “Boardwalk Empire.” His rivals included “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul, who has won the award twice before. Merritt Wever was another surprise victor, in the crowded comedy supporting actress category, for Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.”

“This just in: No one in America is winning their Emmy office pool,” host Neil Patrick Harris joked toward the end of the show. “Surprises galore.”

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Another HBO series, the political comedy “Veep,” snapped “Modern Family’s” three-year reign in the supporting-actor category, with a surprise win for Tony Hale, who plays a top aide to Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who won for the second year in a row).

NBC’s singing contest “The Voice” finally won in the reality competition, joining “Top Chef” and CBS’ perennial “The Amazing Race” as the only shows ever to win that category. And in the comedy-variety category, Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” finally toppled the 10-year reign of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” — the show it was spun off from.

Part of the erratic patterns can be explained by Emmy voting rules. In the acting category, for example, voters are instructed to focus only on the episode the actor submits for consideration, rather than the entire series. Cranston and Spacey won many plaudits over the course of the season, but Daniels’ Emmy submission — the “Newsroom” pilot — featured a much-discussed three-minute monologue in which his disenchanted news anchor explains why America is no longer a great nation.

That said, there were enough repeat winners to make some viewers’ eyes glaze over. Jim Parsons picked up his third Emmy for CBS’ smash sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Claire Danes was a repeat winner for best actress in Showtime’s “Homeland.” In the movie/miniseries category, HBO dominated as expected with its Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra.”

Also playing out as expected: Another relatively poor showing for the broadcast networks. That can be explained by the industry’s growing affection for — and reliance on — premium cable networks, which have kept many Emmy voters employed as movie studios have pulled back on production and broadcast networks have reverted to cheaper-to-make talent and reality shows.

“I’ve done some time on the networks and some time now on the cable channels, and it sure seems like there’s a real swing into the cable world,” Cannavale told reporters backstage. “Everybody knows the movies aren’t making dramas anymore. The best place is HBO or Showtime or AMC or FX, and that was reflected today.”

For now, online streaming services are left off that list. But that might not be the case for long. As Gilligan pointed out, services like Netflix are already playing a role in boosting shows like “Breaking Bad.”

“Netflix kept us on the air,” Gilligan told reporters. “I don’t think our shows would have lasted to season 2 without streaming on demand.... It’s a bold new era in TV.”

Times staff writer Glenn Whipp contributed to this report.