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The 69th Emmy Awards, which took place Sunday night, will be remembered for the unprecedented diversity of its nominees and winners, the Trump-baiting comments of host Stephen Colbert and many others who got on stage and, perhaps longest of all, for the historic drama series win of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That result marks the first time that a streaming service ever has won a series award at the Emmys — something that seems likely to one day, perhaps soon, become the new normal. And the fact that the streaming service was not Netflix or Amazon, but rather a company long regarded as a distant also-ran, makes it an upset of Trumpian proportions.
Handmaid’s Tale, which owes it success to quality, timing and a brilliantly executed campaign that surely cost millions less than its competitors’ pushes, also claimed best directing of a drama series (Reed Morano), best actress in a drama series (Elisabeth Moss, winning for the first time on her seventh nom) and best supporting actress in a drama series (Ann Dowd, in a shocker that served as a bellwether for the rest of the evening). Netflix, for its part, bagged several other big prizes: best TV movie for Black Mirror: San Junipero (a chapter of a limited series that also won best writing for a limited series, movie or dramatic special over five shows actually classified as limited series) and best supporting actor in a drama series for The Crown‘s Winston Churchill, John Lithgow.
The usual suspects also got in on the action. HBO, even without Game of Thrones in the running, won the most major awards, 10. Those included best comedy series (Veep three-peated, holding off FX’s surging Atlanta), best limited series (Big Little Lies) and best variety talk series (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, for the second year in a row in this category and for best writing for a variety series, despite Colbert’s remarkable comeback). Big Little Lies‘ Jean-Marc Vallee won best directing, Nicole Kidman won best actress and Alexander Skarsgard and Laura Dern won best supporting actor and actress for a limited series. And Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus won best actress in a comedy series for the sixth time for that show, her eighth time overall win, the former number extending her own record and the latter tying Cloris Leachman‘s for most overall by a performer.
NBC hoped that, with This Is Us, the highest-rated new show on television and one equally embraced by the critical community, it would claim network TV’s first drama series award since 24 in 2006. While that didn’t happen, The Peacock Network still had a banner night, winning best variety sketch series (Saturday Night Live, for its most relevant season ever, took home a variety series award for the first time since 1993) and best reality-competition program (The Voice, for the second year in a row and third time in four years). SNL also won best directing for a variety series, plus supporting actor and actress in a comedy series for Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon.
This Is Us did show up in the winner’s column thanks to Sterling K. Brown‘s victory in the best actor in a drama series category, a year after he won in a different race for The People v. O.J. Simpson. This outcome marked the first victory for a black person in that category this millennium — in fact, since Andre Braughter won in 1998. In other wins noteworthy for their diversity, as well as their accomplishment, Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe shared the best writing for a comedy series award for Netflix’s Master of None, marking the second consecutive win in that category for Ansari, an American of Indian descent, and the first time that a black woman, Waithe, ever was recognized in it. Meanwhile, Donald Glover, the phenom behind FX’s Atlanta, took home both best directing of a comedy series and best actor in a comedy series. And another HBO rep, The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, beat out his co-star John Turturro and a formidable field that also included The Wizard of Lies‘ Robert De Niro to claim best actor in a limited series or movie.
Totally shut out of major wins were HBO’s Westworld, which tied with SNL for most nominations this year; Netflix’s Stranger Things, a hugely popular show which some expected to win best drama series; and FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, which might have swept the limited series categories but for Big Little Lies.
Will 2017 be remembered as a tipping point, when the TV Academy finally embraced streaming in a meaningful way? Time will tell. But for one night, at least, Hulu — and, perhaps deep down, even Netflix and Amazon, must be saying, “Praise be.”
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