From the opening award, it was a night of firsts, as proud teams and performers pulled off their first Emmy wins.
But by the final minutes of the ABC telecast, the 68th Emmys was poised for the smashing of a long-held record. And with the final award, it happened: HBO’s Game of Thrones slayed its rivals, taking its second consecutive Emmy as outstanding drama. With 12 wins this year and 38 throughout its run, the series surpassed NBC’s classic comedy, Frasier, to become the most-awarded series in Emmy history.
As in years past, HBO dominated the competition, with 22 wins (including Emmys handed out the previous week at the Creative Arts Awards), and its honors included the top comedy prize, for Veep. The second most-awarded network was FX, with 18 Emmys (a basic-cable record), and digital streamer Netflix came in third, with nine.
Much of FX’s Emmy gold went to The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, named outstanding limited series.
The series, based on a nonfiction book by Jeffrey Toobin (The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson), traced the 1994 murder trial of the former football star. Performers Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance and writer-producer D.V. DeVincentis were among those winning first-time Emmys for the series (DeVincentis actually won his first and his second).
Teams from the series also picked up awards at the Creative Arts for editing, sound mixing, hairstyling and casting.
“The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one,” said a teary Paulson on acceptance, referring to her role as former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Marcia Clark, who accompanied her to the September 18 awards ceremony at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater.
“You want to get it right,” she continued, “not for you, but for them.
"The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark, not the two-dimensional cardboard cut-out 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.
"I’m glad to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you I’m sorry.”
Brown, as he accepted his award for portraying deputy district attorney Christopher Darden, thanked the producers, directors and writers for giving him “the road map and guidance to help me get through this performance. And to the producers, specifically Brad Simpson, Nina Jacobson and Ryan Murphy, thank you for giving a brother a chance.”
As noted by host Jimmy Kimmel, this year’s Emmy telecast (which averaged 11.3 million viewers) was one of its most diverse. Alan Yang, who received a comedy-writing award with partner Aziz Ansari for Netflix’s Master of None, called in his acceptance remarks for greater progress.
“There’re 17 million Asian-Americans in this country and there’re 17 million Italian-Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We’ve got Long Duk Dong,” he said, recalling the clichéd character seen in the 1984 film Sixteen Candles.
“We have a long way to go, but I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could do me a favor and just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we would be all good.”
There were also shout-outs to the industry to recognize — and hire — more transgender persons, notably from winners Jill Soloway and Jeffrey Tambor (who won, respectively, for directing and as lead comedy actor, for Amazon Studios’ Transparent) and from presenter Laverne Cox, a transgender actress.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement — the civil rights movement, the feminist movement,” Soloway said. “This TV show allows me to take my dreams about Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk and make them the heroes. Thank you to the trans community for your lived lives.”
Tambor, accepting his second consecutive Emmy for his role as a trans woman, followed that with a plea to the industry to “please give transgender talent a chance.”
Among the evening’s first-time winners were Rami Malek, named outstanding dramatic actor for his lead role in the freshman USA series Mr. Robot, and Tatiana Maslany, who took the lead dramatic actress Emmy for BBC America’s Orphan Black in the show’s fourth season.
“Please tell me you’re seeing this, too,” a shaken Malek told the audience, echoing words often spoken by his Robot character, hacker Elliot Alderson. “I play a young man who, like so many of us, is profoundly alienated…. The unfortunate thing is, 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, isn’t there?”
Maslany, who plays con artist Sarah Manning and her many clones, told the crowd that she felt so lucky to be on a show that “puts women at the center.”
It was a night of raw emotions, including those of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who accepted the lead comedy actress Emmy for HBO’s Veep just two days after the death of her father (later in the evening, when the show was named outstanding comedy, she also won as executive producer; she has earned nine career Emmys).
“I’d like to take this opportunity to personally apologize for the current political climate,” she said. “I think Veep has torn down the wall between comedy and politics. Our show started out as a political satire, but it now feels more like a sobering documentary. So, I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it.”
As the audience laughter subsided, Louis-Dreyfus — her voice breaking — dedicated the win to her father, whose “opinion was the one that really mattered.”
Regina King was called to the stage for a second consecutive year, taking the supporting actress in a limited series award for ABC’s American Crime. “I’m so proud to be a part of this show,” she said, “to have the opportunity to tell stories that provoke conversation… necessary conversation.”
Kate McKinnon, a supporting actress nominee for the past three years for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, finally got the gold. She came on stage visibly overcome and told the audience, “I’m really crying — I’m not making it up.” She continued: “Thank you to [executive producer] Lorne Michaels for giving me the job of my life.”
For the second consecutive year NBC’s The Voice was named outstanding reality competition series and, in the variety talk series category a newcomer, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, swept in.
Oliver, a veteran of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which dominated this category for years), thanked the show’s cast and crew, then impishly asked the producers to “play [him] off with music,” referring to the many acceptance speeches that had ended with the playoff music.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele accepted the award for outstanding variety sketch series for their Comedy Central series, Key and Peele. The honor was bittersweet, given that the show ended its run last year after its fifth season.
“This is crazy,” Peele said. “We have to thank Comedy Central for putting this on the air.”
The first victor of the evening was Louie Anderson, taking the supporting comedy actor award for playing the mother of Zach Galifianakis’s character on FX’s Baskets. “I have not always been a very good man,” he said, “but I play one hell of a woman!”
The surprises continued. When Patton Oswalt won the writing award for the Netflix special Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping, the flustered comedian admitted he hadn’t prepared a speech. “I didn’t think I was going to win…. I’m not kidding.”
Among the evening’s other winning productions were two from PBS’s Masterpiece: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, named outstanding made-for-television movie (in addition to taking a special visual effects Emmy at the Creative Arts), and Downton Abbey, which had picked up art direction and hairstyling Emmys a week earlier and, during the telecast, scored a supporting actress award for Dame Maggie Smith.
During his opening monologue, Kimmel had scolded the English actress for never showing up at the Emmy Awards, despite her many wins as Downton’s Dowager Countess of Grantham. When she won yet again, Kimmel came on stage to grab the Emmy, her fourth for the role. “No, no, no…. We’re not mailing this to her,” he said. “Maggie, if you want this, it will be in the lost and found.”
For more coverage and great photos from the 68th Emmy Awards, pick up a copy of emmy magazine, on newsstands October 11.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2016