LOS ANGELES (AP) – Succession and Ted Lasso topped the Emmy Awards on Monday, in a ceremony that touted the influence of TV and extended honours to global sensation Squid Game and winners who delivered messages of empowerment.
The evening’s uplifting tone, as voiced especially by Zendaya, Lizzo and Sheryl Lee Ralph, was in contrast to the darkness that pervaded the storytelling of Best Drama Series winner Succession and even comedy series victor Ted Lasso.
“Thanks for making such a safe space to make this very difficult show,” said Zendaya, claiming her second Best Drama Actress award for Euphoria, about a group of teens’ tough coming-of-age.
“My greatest wish for Euphoria was that it could help heal people. Thank you for everyone who has shared your story with me. I carry them with me, and I carry them with” Rue, her character, Zendaya said.
Succession, about a media empire run by a grasping and cutthroat family, split drama series honours with Squid Game, the bold South Korean-set drama about the idle rich turning the poor into entertainment fodder.
Lee Jung-jae of Squid Game, who played the show’s moral centre, became the first Asian to win the Emmy for Best Drama Series actor.
“Thank you for making realistic problems we all face come to life so creatively on the screen,” Lee said to Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, who earned the Emmy for Best Drama Series directing. In Korean, Lee thanked the audience in his native country for watching.
Backstage, Hwang said this was “a major moment for us”, and Lee said he expected the awards to open doors for other Asian actors.
Jason Sudeikis and Jean Smart collected back-to-back acting trophies, but several new Emmy winners were minted, with Lizzo and Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph of Abbott Elementary collecting trophies.
Brunson, who created and stars in the freshman series, won the Emmy for comedy series writing. ABC’s Abbott Elementary, also nominated for Best Comedy, is a rare bright spot for network broadcasting in the age of streaming and cable dominance.
Sudeikis won his second consecutive trophy for playing the unlikely US coach of a British football team in the comedy Ted Lasso, with Smart matching that haul for her role as a veteran comedian in Hacks.
Sudeikis gave a rare awards show shoutout to TV consumers: “Thanks to the people who watch this show and dig it as much as we dig making it.”
There was a ripple of reaction in the theatre when Succession creator Jesse Armstrong mentioned Britain’s new king, Charles III, in accepting the show’s trophy, the cast standing alongside him.
“Big week for successions, new king in the United Kingdom, this for us. Evidently a little bit more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles,” Armstrong said. “I’m not saying we’re more legitimate in our position than he is. We’ll leave that up to other people.”
Ralph stopped the Emmy Awards show by accepting the best supporting actress comedy award for Abbott Elementary with a brief but rousing song of affirmation.
“I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I am a woman, I am an artist and I know where my voice belongs,” she belted out. She then encouraged anyone doubting their dream “I am here to tell you this is what believing looks like.”
The audience, including Lizzo and many of television’s biggest stars, leapt to their feet to cheer on Ralph.
When Lizzo herself accepted the award for Best-Competition Series trophy for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, she offered another emotional pep talk.
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media. Someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me,” the music artist said.
There were also cheers for presenter Selma Blair, who has discussed her multiple sclerosis diagnosis publicly and who used a cane on stage.
Ted Lasso co-star Brett Goldstein, won comedy supporting actors, while Matthew Macfadyen of Succession and Julia Garner of Ozark earned drama series supporting actor honours.
“It’s such a a pleasure and privilege for me to play this bonkers gift of a role in this wonderful show,” Macfadyen said in accepting the trophy for his role as a scheming member of a media empire family.
Garner was among the winners who took advantage of covering all bases by thanking her husband and others in an on-screen message.
The White Lotus collected several honours, including best limited or anthology series.
The achievements of Squid Game, Abbott Elementary and a few other shows didn’t change the relative lack of diversity in this year’s nominations, which included significantly fewer people of colour than in 2021.
Host Kenan Thompson kicked off the Emmys with a tribute to TV, dismissing Tik-Tok as “tiny vertical television,” and a musical number saluting series’ theme songs from Friends to The Brady Bunch to Game of Thrones.
Once the music stopped, Thompson provided a mic drop moment – announcing Oprah Winfrey as the first presenter. Winfrey strutted onto the stage holding an Emmy statuette, declaring the night “a party!” The night’s first award went to Michael Keaton for his role in Dopesick. Winfrey and Keaton hugged before she handed him his trophy.
“It means something,” Keaton said of the award for playing a caring doctor ensnared with his patients by addiction. He went on to recall the “magic” of being introduced to TV when his dad won a set at a raffle and thanked his parents for not mocking his youthful attempts at acting.
Amanda Seyfried earned the limited-series lead actress trophy for The Dropout, in which she played ill-fated Silicon Valley whiz kid Elizabeth Holmes. She thanked a list of family and colleagues and even her dog, Finn.
Murray Bartlett won the best supporting actor award for The White Lotus, a tragicomedy set in a Hawaii resort. Jennifer Coolidge, who won best supporting actress honours for the show, delighted the audience by shimmying to the music intended to cut off her acceptance speech.
The award for best variety talk show went to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, with stand-up special Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel winning for best writing for a comedy special.
“Good night, everybody. I’ma go home. I’m not like a sore winner, but I’m going to go home because I can’t top this right now,” an overcome Carmichael told the audience.
Glamour was back with some metallic sparkle and lots of bright colour as an otherworldly Britt Lower, Old Hollywood Elle Fanning and their fellow stars posed for photographers.