Breaking Bad has long been mentioned alongside HBO’s The Sopranos as two of the best drama series ever. The dark AMC drama received a major validation tonight with a big sendoff, earning five Emmy Awards, including best drama series. It became only the second drama to win the top prize for its final season, joining Sopranos. And Breaking Bad did it in an emphatic way — sweeping the top categories, including best actor Bryan Cranston, and best supporting actors Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn.
Modern Family, winner for best comedy series, also recorded a historic achievement, tying NBC comedy Frasier as the scripted series with most Emmy wins. Both did it in a sweep over their first five seasons. Also connecting the two shows is Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd, who was part of the Frasier team that won all five best series trophies.
Breaking Bad‘s landslide victory tonight was even more impressive as it came a year after the show went off the air. It defused the much-hyped faceoff with HBO’s True Detective, which never materialized. The eight-part program’s submission as a drama series was one of the most discussed topics this Emmy season. True Detective netted only one trophy tonight, for director Cary Fukunaga. It was a rough night for all of the programs whose category allocation raised eyebrows, with Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and Showtime’s Shameless, both competing as comedies, not converting any nominations tonight.
Traditional media and TV actors triumphed over new technologies and movie stars. Broadcast and basic cable networks dominated the series categories over premium cable and digital platforms and even gave HBO a run for its money in the long-form categories. Netflix was shut out completely tonight, with HBO landing premium cable’s lone two series wins. And it was veteran series actors who got the trophies over feature stars like Matthew McConaughey, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Billy Bob Thornton.
Related: Emmy Winners By Network (Chart)
The True Detective’s performance also illustrated the struggles newcomers faced this year, with the series categories dominated by repeat winners tonight. Best drama series (Breaking Bad), best comedy series (Modern Family), best variety series (The Colbert Report), lead actress and actor in a comedy series (Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons), supporting actress in a drama series (Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn), best director for a comedy series (Modern Family‘s Gail Mancuso) all were repeats from last year, with several others — best drama actor and actress (Cranston and The Good Wife‘s Julianna Margulies), supporting drama and comedy actor (Paul and Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell), best writing for a comedy series (Louie‘s Louis CK), best reality competition series (CBS’ The Amazing Race) — were previous winners. The only “newcomer” in the series acting categories tonight was one of the most decorated actresses on TV, Allison Janney, who won her sixth Emmy for her supporting role on CBS’ Mom, her second trophy this year alone. (She also won for her recurring role on Masters Of Sex). Earning her first writing Emmy was Breaking Bad‘s Moira Walley-Beckett, who also shared in the show’s back-to-back best series Emmys. Parsons is now tied for most wins in the lead actor in a comedy series category, 4. He matched the accomplishment of such comedy greats as Carroll O’Connor, Michael J. Fox and Kelsey Grammer. On the flip side, Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm became the actor with most nominations (7) not to have won an Emmy. (Mad Men was shut out completely for a third straight year, as were House of Cards and Downton Abbey.)
In her acceptance speech, Margulies addressed another Emmy rule controversy this year, involving drama series — the advantage cable and digital shows that produce 7-8 episodes a year enjoy over broadcast series, which have to make 22-24 episodes a season (Breaking Bad‘s final installment, which earned the best-drama Emmy, consisted of eight episodes, as did the run of its main rival, True Detective.) “Our writers never cease to amaze me, 22 episodes a year,” Margulies said of The Good Wife, which didn’t make the cut for a nomination in the best drama category as the category has remained out of reach for network series for three straight years now.
With Breaking Bad closing the door on True Detective early on with wins for Paul and Gunn, the biggest surprises of the night came in the long-form categories, which produced the unlikely top Emmy winner of 2014, Masterpiece’s Sherlock: His Last Vow. The British show topped the list of programs with seven wins, including three tonight, for best actor and supporting actor in a movie/miniseries (Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman) and best writing (co-creator Steven Moffat).
Related: Emmy Winners By Show (Chart)
It was a nerve-wracking night for longform favorite HBO’s The Normal Heart, which saw category after category in which it had been nominated go to other programs. The upsets ended in the final TV movie category, best movie, which was awarded to Ryan Murphy’s passion project about the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Murphy’s other longform contender, FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, had a good night with two wins, for lead and supporting actress (Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates). Underlining how blurred the lines between series and miniseries are, this was actually Lange’s second Emmy (and third nomination) in the movie/miniseries category for the same program.
It was a big night for FX and CBS. FX’s Fargo reboot snagged best miniseries as well as best directing for Colin Bucksey. Adding Louis C.K.’s trophy, FX tied CBS and AMC for most wins tonight, five. AMC’s awards all were for Breaking Bad, while CBS spread them over four series and three genres: Chuck Lorre’s comedies Big Bang (Parsons) and Mom (Janney), drama Good Wife (Margulies) and reality series (The Amazing Race), with a fifth coming for Glenn Weiss’ directing of the Tony Awards. Including the Creative Emmys, HBO was once again the winningest network with 19 trophies, followed by CBS and PBS (11) and NBC (10).