‘Thrones,’ ‘Veep,’ ‘Kitteridge’ big winners at Emmys

Story highlights

HBO's "Game of Thrones" wins four Emmys on Sunday, including best drama series

"Veep" takes prizes for best comedy series and for star Julia-Louis Dreyfus

HBO miniseries "Olive Kitteridge" wins six awards

CNN  — 

It was a good night for vice presidents, transgender women, cranky New Englanders and the inhabitants of a mythical world called Westeros.

And it was a great night for HBO.

After five seasons HBO’s epic “Game of Thrones” won its first best-drama award Sunday night at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, besting the final season of four-time winner “Mad Men” in a mild upset.

The sprawling medieval fantasy show also won Emmys on Sunday for writing, directing and for supporting actor Peter Dinklage, who plays the scorned scion of a powerful family who is forced to survive by his wits. In total, “Thrones” won 12 Emmys in 2015, the most ever by a series in a single year.

5 top moments from the Emmy Awards

In the comedy category, HBO’s “Veep” finally broke the stranglehold of sitcom powerhouse “Modern Family,” which had won the top Emmy for the past five years. “Veep’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fourth straight Emmy for her starring turn in the show, about an underestimated female vice-president who nevertheless ascends to the Oval Office.

Her castmate Tony Hale won best supporting actor in a comedy series for playing her loyal political aide, and the show also won a writing award.

Combined, HBO won 14 Emmys on Sunday – more than all the other networks and streaming services combined (HBO is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN).

But rival networks still claimed a few other top awards.

After eight tries, Jon Hamm finally won his first Emmy for his now-iconic role as the hard-drinking, womanizing Don Draper on “Mad Men,” which finished its triumphant run last spring on AMC.

The actor, who completed a stint in rehab last spring and recently split with longtime girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt, showed gratitude in a heartfelt acceptance speech.

“There’s been a mistake, clearly,” Hamm said, giving credit to his fellow nominees. “It’s impossible to be named with all of those extraordinary gentlemen.”

Moments earlier, Viola Davis made history by becoming the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama series when she was honored for her work as a high-powered defense attorney in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.”

In an emotional acceptance speech of her own, Davis quoted African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman and alluded to the dearth of strong roles for minority actresses on TV and movies.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Davis was one of several pioneering actors honored Sunday night. Actor Jeffrey Tambor won best actor in a comedy for Amazon’s groundbreaking “Transparent,” about a middle-aged dad who transitions to life as a woman. Tambor, who had been nominated for six prior Emmys but had never won, dedicated his award to the transgender community.

“Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your inspiration,” he said.

His award came after Jill Soloway won an Emmy for writing and directing “Transparent,” which debuted at a time of new visibility for transgender Americans such as Caitlyn Jenner. In accepting the award, Soloway noted that despite recent gains, many transgender people still face discrimination and violence.

“We don’t have a trans tipping point yet,” she said. “We have a trans civil rights problem.”

Emmy Awards 2015: The complete winners list

But the night’s biggest winner may have been “Olive Kitteridge,” the acclaimed HBO miniseries about 25 years in the life of an acerbic, retired schoolteacher in a seemingly placid Maine town. Based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, “Kitteridge” is the type of prestige project that seems to win awards annually for HBO.

It took home Emmys for best limited series and every other award in its category: best actress (Frances McDormand, who played the title character), best actor (Richard Jenkins, her kindly on-screen husband) and best supporting actor (Bill Murray, who didn’t show up to claim his award, unfortunately).

“Kitteridge” director Lisa Cholodenko and screenwriter Jane Anderson also were honored.

Earlier, actress Allison Janney won best supporting actress in a comedy for her role in “Mom,” in which she plays the overbearing mother of a young adult daughter played by Anna Faris. It was Janney’s seventh Emmy; she won four for “The West Wing” alone.

The award was presented by Amy Poehler and the ever-provocative Amy Schumer, who quipped, “Let’s not forget what this night is really about – celebrating hilarious women and letting the Internet weigh in on who looks the worst.”

Schumer won an Emmy for best variety sketch series for her Comedy Central show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” which tackles such hot-button topics as misogyny and female sexuality.

“This show fights for what we believe in,” Schumer said.

It was also a good night for retiring fake-newsman Jon Stewart, whose “The Daily Show” won Emmys for best variety talk series and for its director, Chuck O’Neill. Stewart stepped down in August after 16 years and will be succeeded as “Daily Show” host later this month by Trevor Noah.

The Emmys show opened with host Andy Samberg in a video that poked fun at TV’s overabundance of buzzed-about shows. After being mocked by friends for not keeping up with popular new series, Samberg locks himself in a bunker and watches nothing but TV for a year until he emerges, hairy and wild-eyed, to annoy everyone around him.

Samberg then did a brief monologue in which he cracked jokes about diversity in Hollywood, Paula Deen on “Dancing With the Stars” and – perhaps inevitably – presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump is running for president, to the delight of uncles everywhere,” Samberg said. “I’ve got to say, sure Donald Trump seems racist.”

During Sunday’s three-hour show the Television Academy handed out awards in 25 categories, culminating with the night’s two biggest prizes: outstanding comedy and drama series. For those keeping score, HBO led all networks with 126 nominations. Far behind in second was ABC with 42, followed by CBS and NBC with 41 each.

The Television Academy announced new rules this year that allows all 15,000 academy members, not just smaller groups, to vote for awards – a change some observers believe benefited shows with large fan bases, such as “Game of Thrones.”