Game of Thrones and Veep repeat as outstanding series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story takes five categories, including outstanding limited series and three acting prizes.
In his opening monologue at the 68th Emmy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel joked, “If your show doesn’t have a dragon or a white Bronco in it, go home,” but there still were plenty of reasons for the audience to stick around.
The programs alluded to in Kimmel's quip — HBO's Game of Thrones and FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story — did take home a substantial number of awards, including Outstanding Limited Series (The People v. O.J. Simpson) and Outstanding Drama Series (Game of Thrones).
Both shows set Emmy records, as well. With three honors on the night, Game of Thrones’ lifetime total of 38 Emmys is one more than the overall record previously set by the long-running comedy Frasier, making it the winningest scripted series ever. Thrones had already become the most honored drama series during the two Creative Arts Emmy Awards held on September 10 and 11, surpassing Hill Street Blues and The West Wing.
In addition to top drama series, Thrones won for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss) and Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Miguel Sapochnik).
The five won on Sunday night by The People v. O.J. Simpson helped to push FX’s total for the year to 18, a basic cable record.
Yet, even with these multiple victories — and several repeat winners — the ceremony at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles held some surprises.
First-time winners like Louie Anderson, who took the initial Emmy of the night, were welcomed into the winners’ circle. Named Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Christine Baskets, mother of Zach Galifianakis' character, in the FX series Baskets, Anderson said, “Mom — we did it!” as he lifted his award into the air. “I have not always been a very good man, but I’m one hell of a woman.” After dedicating his award to his late mother, he thanked his large family, as well as producers Galifianakis and Louis C.K., for the part.
Rami Malek, a fellow first-time nominee and winner, seemed surprised by his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, though when he reached the stage, he had the presence of mind to quote Elliot Alderson, the troubled hacker he plays in USA's Mr. Robot, by saying, “Please tell me you’re seeing this, too.” He ended his speech by declaring, “I’m not sure how many of us would want to hang out with a guy like Elliot, but I want to honor the Elliots, because there’s a little bit of Elliot in all of us.”
Yet another first-time winner, Tatiana Maslany, who was named Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for playing multiple characters in BBC America’s Orphan Black, produced her phone to read her speech. Maslany, who also was nominated last year for the series, said, “I feel so lucky to be on a show that puts women at the center.”
After four nominations, Kate McKinnon won for her many characters on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. “I am really crying — I'm not making it up,” an emotional McKinnon said, before thanking two women she imitates on the show — Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton.
Also winning for the first time in its category was Comedy Central's Key and Peele, which took the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, after winning for makeup at the Sunday-night Creative Arts Emmys. Keegan-Michael Key marveled that he and partner Jordan Peele received the award from presenter Damon Wayans, who had inspired them as a cast member of the groundbreaking Fox comedy In Living Color.
In his acceptance speech upon winning the Outstanding Variety Talk Series Emmy for HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, series host Oliver thanked his staff, HBO executives, mentor Jon Stewart and his family, before adding, "Please play me off. I've never had the chance to do this before."
Jeffrey Tambor introduced a tribute to the late Garry Shandling, with whom he costarred on The Larry Sanders Show, before winning his second consecutive Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as transgender parent Maura Pfefferman in the Amazon series Transparent. Tambor took the opportunity to make a case for greater diversity in Hollywood, even if that ultimately puts him out of work. “I’m not gonna say this beautifully, but you producers and network owners, please give transgender talent a chance,” he said. “Give them auditions and their stories. I would not be unhappy if I was the last cisgender male to play transgender on television. We have work to do.”
The sentiment was echoed by presenter Laverne Cox, the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy Award — in 2014, for her performance as Sophia Burset in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. “I just want to echo what Jeffrey Tambor said,” said Cox. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been given a chance.”
Diversity was also an acceptance-speech topic for Master of None writer Alan Yang, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series with producer-writer-star Aziz Ansari. After mentioning that Asians are underrepresented in entertainment, Yang urged parents, “If just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, it will all be good.”
Kimmel joked at length about how Downton Abbey star Maggie Smith has been "Downton Absent" by never having attended the Emmy Awards despite nine nominations. So when Smith did win for her role as Dowager Countess of Grantham in the PBS show (and was, as expected, absent) he took the opportunity to continue the gag. Kimmel snatched the award and growled, “Maggie, if you want this, it will be in the Lost and Found,” before leaving the stage.
Like Smith, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama for his performance in Netflix's Bloodline, was not present to receive his award.
For the second year in a row, the Emmy for comedy series directing went to Jill Soloway for Transparent. “I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement,” Soloway, the show's creator, said after referencing women’s and LGBT rights. “Topple the patriarchy!” Speaking to the media afterward, she tackled the issue of the upcoming election, calling presidential nominee Donald Trump “a monster,” and adding, “Any chance I have to call out Trump for being an heir to Hitler, I will.”
The HBO political satire Veep won for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who prevailed for the fifth consecutive time for her performance as former U.S. President Selina Meyer. Louis-Dreyfus, who now has nine career Emmys — two as an executive producer of Veep, five for acting in Veep and previous acting wins for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine, respectively — also referenced the election in her acceptance speech.
“I’d like to personally apologize for the current political climate," she said. "Our show started out as a political satire, but it now seems like a sobering documentary.” Her speech ended on an unexpectedly heartfelt note when she dedicated the win to her father, who passed on Friday, and whose opinion, she said, “was the one that really mattered.”
The Voice won Outstanding Reality Series for the second consecutive year (and third time overall), and executive producer Mark Burnett cheekily used his time on stage to mention that the NBC show returns on September 19, with judges “Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keyes, your next Supreme Court justices.”
In addition to its win for Outstanding Limited Series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story won acting awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series (Sterling K. Brown), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series (Sarah Paulson) and Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series (Courtney B. Vance).
Brown, who played former Los Angeles prosecutor Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, said in his acceptance speech, “A lot of you may not have known who I was, but you checked the box anyway, which makes me very happy.” After thanking family members, friends and colleagues, Brown said, "Lastly, I was sort of a polygamist during this whole thing. I had three sister wives, Big Love-style, that I have to recognize. Sarah Catharine Paulson, I love you. Where you lead, I just tried to support. Jen Wiley‑Stockton, thank you for 16 great years, my dear manager and friend. Can't wait for the next 16. And contrary to popular belief, I got the hottest chick in the game rocking my chain. Ryan Michelle Bathe, you make this whole thing go. I love you."
Paulson's Emmy for The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story — the first of her career — came for her performance as former prosecutor Marcia Clark, whom she brought as her guest to the show. In her acceptance speech, the actress took the opportunity to address Clark directly.
"The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one," she said. "You want to get it right, not for you, but for them. The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark — not the two‑dimensional cardboard cutout that I saw on the news, but the complicated, whip‑smart, giant‑hearted, mother of two who woke up every day, put both feet on the floor, and dedicated herself to righting an unconscionable wrong — the loss of two innocents, Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown — the more I had to recognize that I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial and careless in my judgment, and I am glad to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you I'm sorry."
Among those Vance thanked in his heartfelt speech was his mother, who has ALS. Speaking to the media afterward, he paid further tribute to her, sharing stories about her work as a librarian and her advocacy of education as a path to achievement for her children. Vance also echoed his co-star Brown's sentiment by making a similar shoutout to his own wife, three-time Emmy nominee Angela Bassett.
For the second year in a row, Regina King won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for the same program — ABC's American Crime — but for playing a different character. "I am so proud to be a part of this show," King said, "to have the opportunity to tell stories that provoke conversation, necessary conversation."
Other Emmy winners included:
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series — D.V. DeVincentis, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, FX
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series — Susanne Bier, The Night Manager, AMC
Outstanding Television Movie — Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (Masterpiece), PBS
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special — Patton Oswalt, Talking for Clapping, Netflix
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special — Thomas Kail & Alex Rudzinski, Grease: Live, Fox
HBO and FX tied for the night with six Emmy Awards each; when adding in Creative Arts Emmys, HBO led the year's winners with 22 in all, followed by FX's 18. Netflix also took home three awards for the night, and tallied nine for the year.
A complete list of winners is available here.