David Zurawik

Final act of Emmy dominance by 'Breaking Bad' a landmark achievement

I love "Breaking Bad," and even I didn't think it would win as big as it did Monday night at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards.

Best drama, best actor (Bryan Cranston), best supporting actor (Aaron Paul), best supporting actress (Anna Gunn) and best writing (Moira Walley-Beckett).


Did show runner Vince Gilligan & Co. ever go out on a high.

And it is all the more impressive when you consider the incredible level of competition for each of those awards. I picked it as best drama, and I picked Gunn and Paul as best supporting actress and actor. But as much as I adored Cranston's performance, there is no way I thought he would beat Matthew McConaughey of "True Detective."


Cranston deserved to beat McConaughey, who was brilliant but more early-episode flash than the kind of steady, sustained excellence Cranston showed in depicting Walter White at the end of his rope. Cranston's final season was as close to transcendent as any performance in a weekly TV drama is likely to get.

I will admit, for a while Monday night I was not feeling great about all the folks with Baltimore ties coming up empty except for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won her third straight Emmy for Baltimore-made "Veep."

(Talk about deserving it. There is no one in the same league with Louis-Dreyfus. I'm crazy about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but neither could handle as complicated, contradictory and basically unlikable a character as Selina Meyer.)

But there is no reason to feel bad for Kevin Spacey, Beau Willimon and "House of Cards." Or, for that matter, for McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and "True Detective." They are outstanding dramas and it wasn't a case of them losing as much as it was someone better winning. Ditto for Baltimore's Josh Charles getting beat out by Paul as supporting actor.

"Breaking Bad" wasn't just great acting, writing and drama, it was great sociology. It spoke fearlessly to the fear and dislocation of life in middle class America after someone stole the safety net we always thought would be there if we worked hard. And it didn't drop a stitch the final season. It stayed strong until the final frame.

I just wish the primetime celebration of "Breaking Bad" had taken place in late September when it was supposed to so that millions more could have enjoyed it. Yes, I am still mad at NBC for pushing this telecast forward by a month to accommodate football and then sticking it on a Monday so as not to compete with the MTV Music Video Awards. It showed outrageous disrespect for a TV ritual -- and served as a reminder of how little excellence matters to the network.

The telecast itself was OK. Seth Meyers was Seth Meyers -- amusing without being hilarious, efficient and appropriate in his TV tone without being as safe and bland as Jay Leno.

I wish he had hit harder at NBC for relocating the telecast to one of the flattest week's in show business, but some of the jokes in his opening monologue nipped a little at the hand that feeds him.


I also wish "The Normal Heart" had won more than just the Emmy for best movie Monday night, because the one big moment the cast and crew had was just about the best of the night. I wanted to see more of the social conscience and passion connected with that production.

As for "Modern Family" winning as best comedy, yawn. Really, I know this is a view from the margins, but "Veep" is so much more daring and illuminating in its humor.

But, I get it, "Veep" is not about a family. And mainstream TV is nothing if not about families. It is the family medium writ large.

I am just glad that cable gave us and Emmy celebrated a darker vision of what the White family looked like when it came under financial and medical assault in a nation that no longer really cares about all those "hard-working middle class families" President Obama and the members of Congress are always invoking when lying to us about how hard they are working on our behalf.