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First time’s the charm

New shows, led by “Modern Family,” are winners at the Emmys

By Brian Stelter

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 4:12 a.m. HST, Aug 30, 2010

LOS ANGELES - It was the "Glee" misfits versus the "Modern Family" brood at the Primetime Emmys here Sunday night, and the family took the top prize.

The freshman darling of broadcast television, "Modern Family" was the first ABC comedy in more than 20 years to receive the Emmy for outstanding comedy series.

Steven Levitan, one of the executive producers, said onstage that "we are so thrilled that families are sitting down together to watch a television show."

With the win, "Modern Family" broke the three-year winning streak of NBC's "30 Rock."

The outstanding drama, for the third year in a row, was "Mad Men," which put the AMC cable channel on the map. "We're now in our fourth season. I didn't even think we'd get through half of one," said Matthew Weiner, the executive producer, who also received a writing award.

After years of talk about the tension between broadcast and cable channels, the awards Sunday indicated that the two can coexist rather peacefully. In the drama categories, AMC's other big series, "Breaking Bad," won two acting awards, one for Aaron Paul in a supporting actor role and one for Bryan Cranston in the lead actor role.

Though it was overshadowed by "Modern Family," "Glee," the other much-buzzed-about new comedy of the past season, picked up two Emmys, for Jane Lynch in the supporting-actress category and for Ryan Murphy for directing. Onstage Lynch told the young actors on "Glee," "When I'm not seething with jealousy, I'm so proud of you."

Murphy, who is also the show's executive producer, said "Glee" was about the importance of arts education, "so I would like to dedicate this to all my teachers who taught me to sing and to finger paint."

After the first hour of the telecast, Fox executives noted that "Glee" had become the most Emmy-winning comedy series in the 24-year history of the network.

Breaking the streak for "Glee," the award for lead actor in a comedy went to Jim Parsons, who plays the lovable geek Sheldon Cooper in "The Big Bang Theory," a popular CBS sitcom that was otherwise shut out of the biggest categories.

There was one big upset: After seven straight years of wins by CBS' "Amazing Race," the cooking competition "Top Chef" took home an Emmy in the reality-competition category, stunning people at its parent cable channel, Bravo.

Clutching her Emmy, Padma Lakshmi, a host of "Top Chef," told reporters backstage that she strutted up to Phil Keoghan, the host of "The Amazing Race," on the red carpet and "said I was taking him down, and guess what? I was right!"

The "Amazing Race" producer Jerry Bruckheimer had been teasing the host of another nominated reality show, Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol," on Twitter all day. After "Top Chef" won, Seacrest asked, "Are we calling it a draw bro?" Bruckheimer answered, "Only for this year. Hope to see you next."

With the streak broken for "The Amazing Race," "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" becomes the show with the longest winning streak on television. It picked up the Emmy for best variety, music or comedy series for an eighth year Sunday, beating among other shows the short-lived Conan O'Brien version of "The Tonight Show."

The prospect of O'Brien's winning an award on NBC's airwaves - after being shown the door by the network after only seven months as host of "The Tonight Show" - added a delicious bit of drama to the awards show.

Jimmy Fallon, the host of Sunday's awards show, addressed that tension right away in the telecast, saying in the opening monologue: "NBC asking a late-night host to go to LA to host another show. What could possibly go wrong?" The control room cut to a close-up shot of O'Brien, who nodded to the camera. Fallon asked, "Too soon?"

Roy Albanese, an executive producer of "The Daily Show," acknowledged O'Brien when he accepted the award on behalf of the Comedy Central channel. "The category is insane. We keep winning," he said, adding, "It's tough to feel bad."

In two other nods for cable, Kyra Sedgwick won lead actress in a drama for "Closer," and Edie Falco won lead actress in a comedy for "Nurse Jackie."

Back on the broadcast side, Archie Panjabi was recognized as best supporting actress for "The Good Wife."

"Lost," the critically acclaimed ABC mystery that wrapped up in May, failed to win an Emmy in any of the four acting categories in which it received nominations. It also lost in the best-drama category.

HBO swept the movie and miniseries categories, with the 10-part World War II epic "The Pacific" winning in the miniseries category and "Temple Grandin" winning in the made-for-television movie category.

"Temple Grandin," a biography of a woman with autism, picked up four other awards: Claire Danes as best lead actress, Julia Ormond as best supporting actress, David Strathairn as best supporting actor and Mick Jackson for directing.

The HBO film "You Don't Know Jack" was recognized with two awards, one for Al Pacino for lead actor and one for miniseries writing for Adam Mazer.

As expected, much of the drama Sunday revolved around the competition between "Glee," a high school musical, and "Modern Family," a multigenerational sitcom.

ABC and Fox each mounted an entertaining ad campaign to sway Emmy voters. For "Modern Family" ABC promised that if the show won for best comedy, the voluptuous actress Sofia Vergara, who plays Gloria, would "run naked down Sunset Blvd." In tiny type the ad included a caveat: "Cast member may change without notice."

One Fox ad for "Glee" was written in the voice of Lynch's conniving cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, whose insults of the glee club coach, Will Schuester, were already legendary. "Academy voters, I'm begging you. They must not win a single statue," the ad implored. "Will Schuester's head is big enough already."

Eric Stonestreet, who plays a new father on ABC's "Modern Family," earned the first statuette of the night for supporting actor in a comedy, and minutes later, Levitan and Christopher Lloyd earned the show's second Emmy of the night at the Nokia Theater, for writing.

Lloyd, who like Levitan is also an executive producer of the series, thanked his ensemble cast, calling it "a writers' dream." Then he thanked his wife, Arleen Sorkin, telling her, 'Modern Family' is, and will always be, a love letter to you."

Presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Emmys are the most prestigious awards in the world of television.

"For us, what's important when you get the nominations - almost as important as the awards - is the third-party recognition of excellence," said Richard Plepler, a co-president of HBO, which traditionally earns more nominations and wins more Emmys than any other cable or broadcast entity. This year it is up for 101 awards.

Emmy statuettes are useful for marketing and for assessing which shows have the most support from the television industry. But they are not a proven ratings booster. The two biggest winners in recent years, "30 Rock" and "Mad Men," remain niche successes at best, with passionate but relatively small audiences.

A year after producers tried in vain to overhaul the format of the awards telecast, there were no big changes this year, but there were some tweaks around the edges.

Don Mischer, the show's executive producer, said Fallon had "just thrown himself into this show," and praised his ability to sing, dance and joke - while under the deadline pressure of live TV.

"Honestly," Mischer said, "I wish we had more time."

For the first time in more than three decades, NBC decided to show the awards live in all time zones. Partly this was to encourage viewers across the country to follow along with the awards on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The television academy also planned a live Webcast to show the backstage action during the awards ceremony.

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