Going into the Emmys, much speculation surrounded whether Netflix's "House of Cards" would be the first series not shown on a broadcast or cable network to win best drama. It didn't, but Gilligan said if it wasn't for streaming services like Netflix, his show wouldn't have lasted beyond its second season.
"House of Cards" was the first online program to be nominated for a top series honor, as big a revolution in the TV industry as when HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" became the first cable series nominee. It was a decade, however, until another cable show, "Sex and the City," won one of the awards. David Fincher of "House of Cards" won a directing award.
The "Modern Family" win can't be called a surprise, since it has been declared best comedy all four years that it has been on the air. None of its ensemble cast took home trophies, though.
Jeff Daniels of the HBO drama "Newsroom" was probably the most unexpected winner, declared best actor in a drama in a category with heavyweights like Cranston, Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," Kevin Spacey of "House of Cards" and Damian Lewis of "Homeland."
"I felt the work stood up to what the other guys are doing," Daniels said. "But we're all doing different things."
One of the show's oddest moments came quickly, when Merritt Wever of "Nurse Jackie" won best supporting actress in a comedy series. "Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um, I got to go, bye," Wever told the audience. Her brevity drew positive notices from Harris and not a few folks on Twitter.
Wever said later she made it quick because she thought she was going to cry.
Tony Hale of "Veep" was another surprise winner in the comedy supporting actor category, beating three "Modern Family" cast members.
"Was I fine? Because I totally blacked out," he asked about his acceptance speech backstage.
More familiar names took home best acting trophies for comedies. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for the second year in a row for playing the lead character in the HBO series "Veep." Jim Parsons, whose CBS show "The Big Bang Theory" has blossomed into television's most popular comedy, won his second acting award.
"It means a ton because I've actually lost many, many more times than I've won. I've lost 10 times in fact. It's delicious to win," said Louis-Dreyfus, who has now won twice as many personal Emmys for "Veep" as she did playing Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld."
As she accepted her second straight award as best actress in a drama for Showtime's "Homeland," Claire Danes paid tribute to one of the series' writers, who died last March and received a writing Emmy posthumously on Sunday.
The ceremony often struck a melancholy note with extended tributes to stars and other industry members who died in the past year.
"Well, this may be the saddest Emmys of all time but we could not be happier," said "Modern Family" executive producer Steve Levitan.
A notable Emmy winning streak ended Sunday when "The Colbert Report" beat its comedy rival "The Daily Show" in the variety series category. Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" had won the award for 10 years straight.