Television may be churning out more original programming than ever, but Emmy voters on Monday opted for a healthy dose of repeats.
Throwing off the temptation to heap honors on up-and-comers such as Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" or HBO's "True Detective," the 66th Emmy Awards telecast live from the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles instead focused on already-familiar shows and names. Heading the list was AMC's gritty drama "Breaking Bad," which won its second consecutive Emmy for drama series for its fifth and final season, and "Modern Family," ABC's sitcom smash, which tied the record set by "Frasier" with a fifth comedy series trophy.
"To be compared with a show like 'Frasier' ... This is a really mind-blowing experience," said Steven Levitan, co-creator of "Modern Family" along with Christopher Lloyd, who was a writer-producer on "Frasier."
The lack of surprise was remarkable even to some of the winners. "Even I thought about voting for Matthew," quipped "Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, who won his fourth Emmy for playing meth dealer Walter White, referring to his category rival Matthew McConaughey, who was up for "True Detective."
In fact, the only new show to take a top prize was "Fargo," FX's crime drama inspired by the film of the same name, which won in the miniseries category. Like "American Horror Story" and "True Detective," "Fargo" will return with new casts and storylines each season.
This year's Emmys were the first held on a Monday since 1976, when the comedy prize went to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." The switch from the typical slot — the last Sunday before the TV season officially starts in late September — was necessary because NBC, the network presenter, wished to avoid a conflict with its lucrative and highly rated Sunday night NFL games.
Seth Meyers, NBC's late-night star who served as host of the three-hour ceremony, alluded in his monologue to the fact that the show was running on a Monday in late August. "Which, if I understand television, means the Emmy Awards are about to get canceled," he joked.
Before the event, some attendees had worried that red-carpet arrivals in the midst of Los Angeles rush hour would mean traffic Armageddon. Alternate means of transport became popular. ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel even tweeted a picture of himself in a tuxedo riding the Metro subway downtown.
In the end, the dreaded commuting mess did not materialize.
"I was so nervous about getting here," Julianna Margulies said on the red carpet, before she picked up her third overall Emmy, the latest one for CBS' "The Good Wife." "Everyone was sending me articles about how bad it was going to be this year." Instead, "it's so mellow," she added. "I'm very relieved."
In terms of awards, the biggest breakthrough went to "Sherlock," the British modernization of the detective series that airs in the U.S. as part of PBS' "Masterpiece."
"Sherlock: His Last Vow" won for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson respectively. Throwing in the prizes already won at last week's Creative Arts Emmys, "Sherlock" won seven Emmys overall. The series had been nominated 17 times in previous seasons without winning. Neither Cumberbatch nor Freeman was on hand to pick up their awards Monday.
HBO's "The Normal Heart" — a star-studded adaptation of Larry Kramer's play about the early years of the AIDS crisis — won for TV movie.
Otherwise, voters' bias toward the tried-and-true was striking.
Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" picked up its second consecutive Emmy in the comedy/variety series category — a win made more poignant by the fact that the show is ending later this year. Host Stephen Colbert is headed to CBS to replace the retiring David Letterman on "The Late Show."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fifth overall Emmy and third for HBO's comedy "Veep." Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on CBS' sitcom smash "The Big Bang Theory," strolled onstage to pick up his fourth career Emmy. Aaron Paul picked up his third Emmy for his supporting work as a young meth dealer on "Breaking Bad." Jessica Lange also won her third Emmy, this time for "American Horror Story: Coven."
Allison Janney had already won five Emmys, including one last week for a guest spot on Showtime's drama "Masters of Sex." But the academy gave yet another on Monday for her supporting work on "Mom," a CBS sitcom that struggled to find an audience in its first season. That meant bypassing Kate Mulgrew in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" and Anna Chlumsky in HBO's "Veep," two shows with far greater critical acclaim.
Even if the results were not eye-popping, some winners still saw the overall crop of nominees as proof of the industry's health. This year the Emmys received the highest number of submissions ever in both the drama category with 108 and comedy with 86.
Margulies in particular cited the plethora of roles available to women. "Look at what's happening right now," she said backstage. "Just having Viola Davis hand me an Emmy — she's doing her own show. Tea Leoni, Claire Danes, Kerry Washington — all these incredible actresses are being written as complicated, interesting characters. And you don't see any of the characters we play in film. So I feel like this is the golden age of television, but it's also one for the women in television."
At least one person who claimed to be surprised at the outcome was "Breaking Bad" show runner Vince Gilligan, despite the fact that "Breaking Bad" had one of the most critically acclaimed final seasons in TV history. "I did not think we were going to win tonight," he said backstage. "But when Aaron won and then when Anna [Gunn] won and Bryan won I thought, 'Well hell, we might have a real chance here tonight.'
"We were up against some very stiff competition," he said. "We are so proud to be up there and so honored because you know, so many people could have won this tonight and it would have been justified and deserved. But I'm glad it was us."