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In what is being called a new golden age for television, the tube is bristling these days with new, high-quality shows. But at the Primetime Emmy Awards held Monday night at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles, it was less a case of cutting-edge winners, and more of déjà vu all over again for oh so many of the recipients. Overwhelmingly, the winners were serial repeaters, having triumphed in the same or different categories in years past, often more than once. It’s not that those who took home the statuettes were undeserving. But Television Academy members when they cast their ballots seem afflicted by repetitive voter syndrome. If you won before there was a very good chance you’d win again. This was especially true this year, with “Breaking Bad” in drama and sit-com “Modern Family” the prime examples.
“Breaking Bad,” about a chemistry professor who becomes a ruthless meth dealer, led the prize parade with five Emmys, including the second consecutive year it won for Outstanding Drama Series and actor Bryan Cranston, who played the wily Walter White, got the best actor award in the category for the fourth time. Co-stars Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul won their second and third Emmys respectively. The fifth award for best writing for a dramatic series went to Moira Walley-Beckett. The slew of awards for the show, which finished its fifth and final season last year on AMC, was in one sense a valedictory coronation for what many consider one of the best drama series ever to appear on television.
“Modern Family,” about a multi-diverse 21st century clan, won its fifth consecutive Emmy as best comedy series. That tied the record held by “Frasier.” And Ty Burrell won the best supporting actor award in the category for the second time. The aura of predictability made for a matter-of-fact Emmy Awards show. Many of the acceptance speeches seemed perfunctory. Seth Meyers, host of NBC Late Night and formerly the news presenter on “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update, presided with his droll minimalist humor that kept the show on an even keel but didn’t add much zest.
The emotional highpoint of the evening was Billy Crystal’s tribute to actor Robin Williams who died earlier this month. “It is very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives,” he said. “He was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy.”
Amidst the repeaters, there were some genuine surprises. The biggest was “Sherlock: the Last Vow,” a BBC production that aired on PBS. It won three Emmys. Thespian du jour, Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the iconic detective, won for best actor in a mini-series or movie. Martin Freeman copped the supporting actor award. And Steve Moffatt won for best writing. “Sherlock” also earned bragging rights for this year’s show with the most Emmys—seven including the four awards garnered last week at the Creative Emmy Awards.
Critics’ favorite “Fargo,” a television reboot of the Coen Brothers movie, walked away with two awards: best miniseries or special, and best writing in that category. The Emmy for best direction of a drama series went to Cary Joji Fukunaga, for helming an episode of “True Detective,” but that was it for the HBO mini-series another critical favorite.
Matthew McConaughey, co-star of “True Detective,” a noirish show about two sleuths trying to solve a murder by a serial killer over a 17-year span, was widely favored to win the Emmy for best actor in a drama to go along with the Oscar he won in March for “Dallas Buyers Club.” But he lost out to Bryan Cranston. McConaughey, nevertheless, got lots of face time in the early part of the show, as he was alternately ribbed and fawned over. In her acceptance speech for winning the Emmy for best direction of a comedy series, “Modern Family” helmer Gail Marcus looked out at the actor seated in the audience and said “if you don’t mind Matthew McConaughey, I’m just going to make eye contact with you right now.”
Meanwhile, there were a number of prominent winners who would add the Emmy they received to others already in their possession. Jim Parsons won his fourth Emmy for best actor in a comedy series for playing the geeky Sheldon Cooper in ratings smash “The Big Bang Theory.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus three-peated for her role in HBO’s “Veep,” about a fictional vice president turned president as best actress in a comedy. She previously also won Emmys as best comedy supporting actress in “Seinfeld” and as best actress in a comedy for “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Allison Janney got her sixth Emmy for her role in sitcom “Mom” as best supporting actress in a comedy. She won her fifth the previous week at the Creative Arts Emmys for best guest appearance by an actress in her recurring role in Showtime’s “Master of Sex.” Janney already had four Emmys for “The West Wing,” in which she played a Presidential aide.
Julianna Margulies won her second Emmy as best dramatic actress for her role in “The Good Wife,” about a woman who returns to work as a lawyer after her husband is sent to jail in a corruption scandal. And she won three other times for roles in three different shows.
Comedian Louis C.K. got an Emmy for best writing for a comedy series. He was nominated in two other categories as well. He previously won three other Emmys, all in writing categories, going back to the days when he had gigs with Chris Rock and Conan O’Brien. And he has six previous Emmy nominations. In the reality show category, “The Amazing Race,’ which pits teams in a grueling series of worldwide chases to reach a final destination, hauled in a remarkable thirteenth Emmy. It has won the same prize in all but two years between 2001 and 2014.
And the “Colbert Report” for the second year in a row won the award for Best Variety Show and for best writing for a Variety Show. Steven Colbert, host of the nightly satirical series on Comedy Central, is set to replace David Letterman on his late night show in January. That sets up the possibility he could be competing with himself in the same category at next year’s Emmys.
Two of the longshot winners on Monday also were Emmy winners in the past. Kathy Bates won for best supporting actress in a movie or miniseries for “American Horror Story: Coven.” In 2012 she won for best guest actress for her appearance in “Two-and-a-half Men.” And Bates has nine other Emmy nominations to her name.
Sarah Silverman seemed genuinely surprised to win the Emmy for best writing for a variety show her first HBO standup special, “We Are Miracles.” The achievement was more remarkable given the competition: “67th Annual Tony Awards”; “Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays”; “The 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards”; and “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America.” Silverman also won an Emmy in 2008 in an unusual category, for original music and lyrics for a song she did on “The Jimmy Kimmel” show. The always provocative and unpredictable comedienne in her acceptance speech revealed to the audience that she had a marijuana pipe in her purse. She later explained she wasn’t stoned but was saving it for later. Maybe for next year in case she gets yet another Emmy.