Cult crime show Breaking Bad
won the best drama Emmy on Sunday, but there was disappointment for House of Cards
, which had hoped to win the first major award for an online-only series.
The best comedy award in television's version of the Oscars went to Modern Family
, the fourth year in a row it has topped the category, while Big Bang Theory
star Jim Parsons took the best comedy actor prize for a third time.
Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra
was the other big winner of the night, taking home Emmys for best miniseries/TV movie, best actor for Michael Douglas as the flamboyant gay piano icon, and best director Steven Soderbergh.
The critically-acclaimed Breaking Bad,
about a chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White, won the top drama prize only a weekend before its series finale next week after five seasons.
Show producer and writer Vince Gilligan looked shocked as he took the stage at the climax of the 65th Primetime Emmy awards show in Los Angeles. His show had been nominated for the top prize three times before.
"I thought this was going to be House of Cards
," he said, before adding that it could have been one of the other four shows nominated: Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland or Mad Men
Perhaps the biggest upset of the night was for Jeff Daniels, who won best drama actor Emmy for his role as TV news anchor Will McAvoy in HBO's The Newsroom.
The frontrunners had been Breaking Bad
star Bryan Cranston, who has already won it three times, and House of Cards
star Kevin Spacey for his turn as scheming congressman Francis Underwood.
Claire Danes won best drama actress for the second year in a row for her turn as bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Homeland
, besting rivals including House of Cards
co-star Robin Wright, who plays Spacey's character's wife Claire.
Disappointed fans of Kerry Washington had hoped she would become the first African American to win best actress in a drama for her role in ABC's political thriller Scandal
. She was the first nominated in the category since 1995.
On the comedy front, the top prize went to Modern Family,
about the dysfunctional antics of Jay Pritchett and his extended family in Los Angeles.
Political comedy Veep
scored two wins with best actress for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and best supporting actor for Tony Hale.
Elton John meanwhile made a moving tribute to Liberace, playing a new song and acknowledging the gay piano icon's influence on his own music "and my dress sense," saying: "This guy played a mean piano."
Douglas, accepting the Emmy for his turn as Liberace, got laughs when paying tribute to co-star Matt Damon, who plays Liberace's gay lover Scott Thorson.
"This is a two-hander," he said, to widespread titters. "And Matt, you're only as good as your other hand ... The only reason I'm standing here is because of you."
Gripping the Emmy statuette, he said he would have to share it with Damon, who was also nominated in the same category. "You want the bottom or the top?" Douglas asked Damon, bringing the house down.
The biggest loser of the night was House of Cards,
which had hoped to symbolize the direction the TV industry is going -- online.
The Netflix political drama aimed to become the first online-only series to win in major categories, but only took home a prize for best directing for David Fincher.
But "Breaking Bad" creator Gilligan said that, despite not winning any major prizes for House of Cards
Sunday, Netflix had indirectly helped his own drama and others flourish.
"Television has changed a lot in six years," he said after the show, cited by industry journal Variety, adding: "A big part of what has changed is streaming video on demand, particularly with operations like Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.
"I think Netflix kept us on the air. .. .I don't think our show would have even lasted beyond season two. It's a new era in television, and we've been very fortunate to reap the benefits," he said.