Sep. 23, 2013 at 6:16 AM ET
Sunday night's 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards show was marked by some surprises and brightened by a few familiar and favorite faces, but tinged with sadness.
Heavy moments weighed down the night, as individual tributes to actors Jean Stapleton, Cory Monteith, James Gandolfini, Jonathan Winters and writer Gary David Goldberg were delivered by co-stars and friends.
The broadcast also focused on the 50th anniversary of historic television events of 1963, which included the grim announcement of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
"This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we could not be happier," said "Modern Family" co-creator Steven Levitan, accepting the outstanding comedy award.
AMC drama "Breaking Bad" has been riding high on headlines about its dramatic final episodes, and that exposure paid off when the show claimed the outstanding drama Emmy and actress Anna Gunn won her first Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama.
"Holy crap!" said show creator Vince Gilligan as he accepted the drama award. "I did not see this coming." The show's finale airs next week, while its second-to-last episode aired Sunday to mostly positive reviews.
While actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have won Emmys before, this was the first such honor for Gunn, who plays the wife of teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White. Her character, Skyler, is so disliked that Gunn was moved to write an editorial for the New York Times about the audience's vitriolic reaction to her role.
"Bryan Cranston just told me to breathe," Gunn said as she began her acceptance speech.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus lightened a somber night's mood when she picked up her fourth lead actress Emmy, this time for her role as Vice-President Selina Meyer on "Veep," and stayed charmingly in character while delivering her acceptance speech.
While Louis-Dreyfus spoke, Tony Hale, who plays her obsequious aide Gary Walsh on "Veep" and had himself just won the award for best supporting actor in a comedy, stood behind her in character, holding her purse, nodding and gesturing. When Louis-Dreyfus thanked her two sons, Hale stage-whispered loudly, "you love them so much," leading Louis-Dreyfus to parrot, "I love them so much!" When she finished the speech, Hale gave his TV boss an encouraging thumbs-up.
Louis-Dreyfus has also claimed the lead actress Emmy for playing Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" in 1996, and for playing Christine Campbell on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" in 2006. She previously won for "Veep" in 2012.
Louis-Dreyfus was a favorite to win in her category, but a few other winners blew apart office pools. The Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy was expected to go to one of the two "Modern Family" nominees, but instead was presented to Merritt Wever, who plays Zoey Barkow on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie."
Wever delivered a memorable short speech in a program that started a few minutes late due to NFL football, quickly saying thank you and then blurting out, "I gotta go, bye!" and leaving the stage.
Host Neil Patrick Harris later remarked, "Merritt Wever, best speech ever."
More surprising wins came in both supporting and lead actor categories for dramatic programs. Bobby Cannavale won the supporting award for "Boardwalk Empire" and Jeff Daniels the lead actor honor for "The Newsroom," both against stiff competition from more headline-friendly shows. Many Emmy-watchers expected that award to go to Cranston for "Breaking Bad" or Kevin Spacey for "House of Cards."
"The last thing I won was for (2005 movie) 'The Squid and the Whale,' best actor over 50 from the AARP," said Daniels. "With all due respect to the AARP, this is better."
Jim Parsons won for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for his role as geeky physicist Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory." He also won the award in 2011 and 2010. "It is silly to be emotional about it, isn't it?" he said in a typical-of-his-character aside.
Claire Danes, who was first nominated for an Emmy at age 16, for "My So-Called Life," won the lead actress in a drama series award for her role in "Homeland," her second straight win for that part. Danes made special mention of "Homeland" writer Henry Bromell, who earlier in the night won a posthumous award for outstanding writing in a drama. Bromell died in March at age 65 after suffering a torn aorta; his widow, Sarah, tearfully accepted his award.
"We just love him so much," Danes said of Bromell. "We think of him every day as we work on the show he helped define."
Tina Fey and Tracy Wigfield shared the Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy for their work on "30 Rock."
"The Colbert Report" won for outstanding writing for a variety series, and also won the outstanding variety series award.
Don Roy King won for outstanding directing for a variety series for the Justin Timberlake-hosted episode of "Saturday Night Live."
David Fincher claimed the outstanding directing Emmy for the pilot for Netflix's "House of Cards," a notable honor because it was given to a program that didn't air on traditional television, but was made specifically to be streamed online. "House of Cards" also claimed awards for casting and cinematography at the Creative Arts Emmys held on Sept. 15. But some had expected the program to walk away with more honors, thus cementing the viability of online streaming programs such as "Cards," "Orange is the New Black," and the new episodes of "Arrested Development."
Singing program "The Voice" took home the Emmy for outstanding reality competition program.
"Considering everyone comes up to me weekly and says, 'I love your show 'Amazing Race,' ' it feels good to win for a show that I do produce," "Voice" producer Mark Burnett said backstage. "The Amazing Race" has dominated the reality competition Emmy category, winning nine out of 11 times.
Dancer and choreographer Derek Hough won the choreography Emmy for his work on "Dancing with the Stars."
Awards for miniseries and TV movie work were divided among numerous productions, but "Behind the Candelabra," the biopic about pianist Liberace that was originally intended for theatrical release, was the night's big winner after already claiming eight awards at the Creative Arts Emmys.
"Behind the Candelabra" won the best movie or miniseries Emmy, Stephen Soderbergh took home the directing honor, and Michael Douglas won the lead actor award for playing Liberace.
Laura Linney claimed the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie for "The Big C: Hereafter."
James Cromwell won for outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or movie for his role in "American Horror Story: Asylum." Ellen Burstyn won for outstanding supporting actress for "Political Animals."
Abi Morgan won for outstanding writing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special for "The Hour."
Melissa Leo and Bob Newhart won Emmys for guest actress and guest actor on comedy shows, while Gail Mancuso won for outstanding directing of a comedy series for "Modern Family."