Baltimore was again front and center at the Emmy Awards telecast, with two major comedy awards going Sunday night to HBO's "Veep," the locally made series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer.
Louis-Dreyfus, the most honored comedy actress in TV history, won as best actress in a comedy for the second year in a row, while Tony Hale grabbed the Emmy as best supporting actor.
"House of Cards," which is also made in Maryland, won the Emmy for best direction in a drama series for the work of David Fincher in Episode 1 of the groundbreaking Netflix political thriller.
It was the first major Emmy-night award for an Internet series. "House of Cards" won awards for casting and cinematography at last week's creative arts ceremony. While "House of Cards" did make history this year at the Emmys, it didn't change the world of television.
Stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were beaten out for the best actor and actress awards by Jeff Daniels, of HBO's "Newsroom," and Claire Danes of Showtime's "Homeland," respectively. Danes also won the award last year.
No one series dominated the awards themselves, which were held at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. AMC's "Breaking Bad" won for best drama, and co-star Anna Gunn won as best supporting actress in a drama. ABC's "Modern Family" — which features Baltimore native Julie Bowen — earned best comedy for the fourth year running. HBO's "Behind the Candelabra" swept its categories, with Emmys for best movie or miniseries, actor Michael Douglas and director Steven Soderbergh.
Among the other winners were Jim Parsons, of "The Big Bang Theory," as best actor in a comedy series; Merritt Wever, of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," as best supporting actress in a comedy; and Bobby Cannavale of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" as best supporting actor in a drama.
Stephen Colbert won for top variety show (his staff nabbed the writing award as well).
The comedy awards were announced back-to-back with Louis-Dreyfus, who won her fourth Emmy, giving a shout-out to the show's "wonderful crew in Baltimore."
Hale, who plays Meyer's over-attentive aide Gary Walsh, assumed that role in one of the telecast's funnier moments, walking behind and holding Louis-Dreyfus' purse as she took the stage to accept her award.
And as she spoke, he whispered lines into her ear in a stage voice, the way he does with Meyer in "Veep."
"Thank your family," he whispered. "Say how much you love them."
And the timing between the two in the improvised moment was as impeccable as it is onstage in Columbia, where the series is filmed.
The telecast was lacking in big moments — but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
The mainly perfunctory tone was established in the opening, which featured host Neil Patrick Harris in a TV control room trading quips with characters in video clips. Following his onstage entrance, he was joined by former hosts such as Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and Jane Lynch, who were critiquing his performance.
The production was going nowhere until the camera cut to Spacey, who assumed the persona of his character, Francis Underwood, and directly addressed the camera. In the series, Spacey plays a Washington politician who is passed over for a Cabinet post and exacts his revenge on the administration through scheming and manipulation.
In Underwood's voice, Spacey explained to viewers how he had been passed over as host of the telecast and he was having his revenge by tricking the former hosts into sabotaging Harris.
The speeches in the early going were consistently short. By far the best speech of the night — charming, flustered and succinct — came from Wever ("Nurse Jackie"): "Um." Long pause. "I gotta go, bye!" The soul of wit, as they say, is brevity.
Douglas went a little off color in accepting his award for his work as Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra."
In thanking his co-star, Matt Damon, who played Liberace's young assistant and lover, Douglas said, "This is a two-hander," then made a sly sexual joke.
Several of the In Memoriam moments were placed throughout the telecast rather than delivered all at one time. One of the most effective was Edie Falco's farewell to James Gandolfini.
The show was heavy on meta moments — segments commenting of the artifice of the Emmy telecast itself.
"The Number in the Middle of the Show" featured Harris singing lyrics that told viewers how the production number was mainly filler to mark the halfway point in the telecast and keep it on schedule. That's not exactly something that would make you want to jump out of your chair and sing along — unless you are deeply moved by irony and post-modern deconstruction.
The telecast was at its absolute worst when it tried to go deep in a salute to TV becoming the principal storyteller of American life 1963 and 1964 with coverage of the death of President John Kennedy and debut of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan respectively.
By the time we got to Carrie Underwood singing "Yesterday," I wanted to run from the room screaming. What could have been illuminating and touching came out as self-congratulatory and superficial — just as television generally all too often does.
Tribune Newspapers contributed to this article.
"Breaking Bad" (AMC)
Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom")
Claire Danes ("Homeland")
David Fincher ("House of Cards")
Supporting actor, drama
Bobby Cannavale ("Boardwalk Empire")
Supporting actress, drama
Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad")
Henry Bromell ("Homeland")
"Modern Family" (ABC)
Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory")
Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep")
Gail Mancuso ("Modern Family")
Supporting actor, comedy
Tony Hale ("Veep")
Supporting actress, comedy
Merritt Wever ("Nurse Jackie")
Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield ("30 Rock")
Movie or miniseries
"Behind the Candelabra" (HBO)
Actor, movie or miniseries
Michael Douglas ("Behind the Candelabra")
Actress, movie or miniseries
Laura Linney ("The Big C: Hereafter")
Directing, movie or miniseries
Steven Soderbergh ("Behind the Candelabra")
"The Voice" (NBC)
"The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central )
Directing, variety series
"Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Supporting actor, movie or miniseries
James Cromwell ("American Horror Story: Asylum")
Supporting actress, movie or miniseries
Ellen Burstyn ("Political Animals")
Recent tweets from Baltimore Sun media and television critic David Zurawik: