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What happened at the Emmys, explained

Aaron Paul (left), Anna Gunn, and Bryan Cranston all won Emmys for their work on Breaking Bad.
Aaron Paul (left), Anna Gunn, and Bryan Cranston all won Emmys for their work on Breaking Bad.
Jason Merritt
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Monday night's Emmys, hosted by Seth Myers, were dominated by two TV shows, a smattering of funny moments, and one shameful bit involving Sofia Vergara and a pedestal. Here's what went down and how.

Join us for the Emmys, explained.

Who were the big winners?

aaron paul

Aaron Paul receives an Emmy (Mark Davis/Getty)

Breaking Bad went home with five major prizes, for Drama Series, Lead Actor (Bryan Cranston), Supporting Actor (Aaron Paul), Supporting Actress (Anna Gunn) and Writing. With the one award it won last week (for editing) that's a total of six, bringing its total to 16 over the course of its run.

Modern Family took home just three, but they were for Series, Supporting Actor (Ty Burrell), and Directing. More importantly, the show is now tied with Frasier for the most trophies won by a series ever, as well as the most won in a row. Both shows won five awards in five years.

In the Movies and Miniseries category, things were a bit more spread out, with Sherlock and American Horror Story: Coven splitting the acting categories along gender lines (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman for the former; Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange for the latter). FX's Fargo took the miniseries prize and HBO's The Normal Heart the movie prize. Notably, this is the first time FX has ever won an award in a program category, a prize that has eluded the network after over a decade of great shows.

Major prizes were also given to Allison Janney, Julia Louis-DreyfusJim ParsonsJulianna Margulies, and The Colbert Report. You can read a complete rundown of winners here.

What were the best moments?

The show had to rush to fill its three-hour time slot, which meant that some of the most interesting speakers — such as Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan — were cut off, but there were some solid moments throughout, such as host Seth Meyers introducing Amy Poehler as Beyoncé.


Or Bryan Cranston and Julia Louis-Dreyfus making out. (There's a back-story here that involves Seinfeld. Definitely check it out at the link.)

JLD Bryan Cranston

Billy Eichner of Billy on the Street joined Meyers for a segment that took on a kind of giddy, comic lunacy.


And Weird Al Yankovic performed famous, wordless theme songs with some lyrics added. It didn't go as well as you might have hoped, but it was worth it just for Yankovic wandering the stage, proclaiming, "Homeland! Standing in a maze!"

Finally, Gwen Stefani had her own John Travolta "Adele Dazeem" moment, when she renamed The Colbert Report "The Colbort Report."

Who gave great speeches?

There was nothing as great as Merritt Wever's speech from last year, but there were some lovely little moments sprinkled throughout the ceremony. Jim Parsons paid moving tribute to his father. Jimmy Fallon came onstage to deliver the first part of Stephen Colbert's speech in a comic bit that didn't really work but gained points for breaking up the humdrum awards show routine.

The In Memoriam segment, as always, was lovely and filled with TV giants, such James Garner. It culminated in a wonderful tribute from Billy Crystal to his friend Robin Williams.

Maybe the best speech of the night, however, belonged to The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, who completed the unlikely task of returning to the nominee field after being bumped out last year — and then won, an even more unlikely task. Her tribute to fellow Good Wife star Josh Charles was terrific. Also worth noting was Kathy Bates's speech. She seemed actually surprised by her win and started her speech with a story of how she was convinced she had lost after getting a look from the accountants who calculate the awards.

But there were so many repeat winners there weren't any real surprises. The only person in the eight series acting categories who hadn't won for their role before was Allison Janney for her supporting work on the sitcom Mom — but this was her sixth Emmy, and her second this year (the other was for her guest work on Masters of Sex, awarded at the Creative Arts Emmys). Janney actually openly bragged about all of the Emmys she has. (And she totally should. She's Allison Janney!)

How was Seth Meyers?

66th annual primetime emmy awards

Seth Meyers hosted this year's Emmy Awards. (NBC)

He was pretty okay, even if he had a mild case of the "first time hosting a major awards show" jitters. Nobody's going to list him as one of the great Emmy hosts of all time — a list that pretty much consists solely of Ellen DeGeneres's work in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — but he also didn't totally embarrass himself. His monologue was incredibly dry, but the punchlines were there. We didn't laugh very much, but we also didn't find ourselves agog at the poor quality of his jokes.

Were there any things people got mad about?

Well, the fact that Modern Family keeps winning awards will always rile up certain corners of the internet (including your humble commentator), but that's the sort of "all in good fun" anger we expect out of awards shows.

What wasn't fun was when the program put that show's star, Sofia Vergara, up on a rotating pedestal for everyone to look at, proclaiming her something good to watch. It was intended as an ironic commentary on the inherent sexism of the presentation of women on television (with a soupçon of the sort of ironically racist humor Vergara often gets dragged into at these things, in which she pretends not to know the ways of the United States). But it ended up crossing the line into being exactly what it was intended to make fun of.

When are awards shows going to learn they are not good at satire? Never, probably.

Any interesting trivia?

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm is still Emmy-less. (Kevork Djansezian/NBC)

One thing people often forget is that for a show that won four Drama Series Emmys, Mad Men actually hasn't won that many Emmys overall. In fact, Breaking Bad's 16 total awards carry it up over the top of network sibling Mad Men, which only has 15. Even more notable: Mad Men has never won a single acting award, despite being nominated 34 times, and it hasn't won an Emmy since 2011, when it won two. In that time, it's been nominated for 33 awards and lost every single one.

True Detective followed in the footsteps of another HBO show that did terrifically at the Creative Arts awards in its first season, then only won direction at the main event. That show was Boardwalk Empire, and despite winning a handful of Emmys since its first season, it's struggled ever since.

Despite a huge nominations haul for both Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, as well as a major nomination for Derek's Ricky Gervais, Netflix has been unable to capitalize on its momentum for an award more major than directing (which it won last year for David Fincher's work on House of Cards). It took a long time for cable to break through at the Emmys, as well, and it's possible Netflix is similarly hamstrung by people whose livelihoods are dependent upon traditional TV distribution models and are suspicious of streaming. They'll clearly nominate it; they just aren't ready to give it a big win.

Going beyond just the acting, the only people from series to win Emmys who hadn't won before in their respective series categories were Moira Walley Beckett, the writing winner from Breaking Bad (which won writing for the very first time); Cary Joji Fukunaga, the directing winner from True Detective; and, again, Janney. Everybody else in a series category was a repeat winner.

The big Emmy loss streak broken was that of Steven Moffat, writer of Sherlock, who had been nominated five times for his work on the show before finally winning for his script for the third season finale.

Which loser wasn't having it?

Ladies and gentlemen, Cicely Tyson is simply too old for this. (Click that link to see more sore losers and winners.)

How was the show overall? Should I watch my DVRed copy?

Honestly, you can probably skip it. It was not the worst Emmy show ever, but the long slog of repeat winners cut down on much of the evening's excitement. Go and sample some exciting new TV instead.