Published September 22. 2013 9:00PM Updated September 22. 2013 11:26PM
LOS ANGELES — Breaking Bad," AMC's soon-to-end tale of Walter White's descent into depravity, has won the Emmy Award for best drama.
The honor on Sunday was the first time "Breaking Bad" had won the award despite three previous nominations. Its star, Bryan Cranston, has won three best actor Emmys for his portrayal of White, the terminally ill chemistry teacher who turns into a drug lord to provide for his family. He lost this year but Anna Gunn, the actress who portrays his wife, won a supporting actress award.
The win came one week before AMC is due to air the series finale.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus claimed her second consecutive best comedy actress Emmy Award on Sunday for her role as an ambitious political second banana in "Veep," with Jim Parsons again claiming the top comedy acting trophy for "The Big Bang Theory."
"This is so much good fortune it's almost too much to bear," said Louis-Dreyfus. "I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to make people laugh. It's a joyful way to make a living."
Parsons added to the awards he won in 2011 and 2010 for the role of a science nerd.
"My heart, oh my heart. I want you to know I'm very aware of how exceedingly fortunate I am," he said.
Merritt Wever of "Nurse Jackie" won the night's first award, for best supporting actress in a comedy series, kicking off the ceremony on a surprising note and with a remarkably brief acceptance speech.
"Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um, I got to go, bye," Wever told the audience after besting a field that included two-time winner Julie Bowen of "Modern Family."
"Merritt Wever, best speech ever," host Neil Patrick Harris said.
Backstage, she offered an explanation: "I'm sorry I didn't thank anyone. I was going to cry."
Tony Hale of "Veep" claimed the trophy for best supporting actor in a comedy, a category that has been the property in recent years of the men of "Modern Family."
"Oh, man.... This is mindblowing, mindblowing," Hale said.
Laura Linney was named best actress in a miniseries or movie for "The Big C: Hereafter."
The ceremony's first hour was relatively somber, with memorial tributes and a doleful song by Elton John in honor of the late musical star Liberace, the subject of the nominated biopic "Behind the Candelabra."
"Liberace left us 25 years ago and what a difference those years have made to people like me," said John, who is openly gay in contrast to the closeted Liberace portrayed in the TV movie.
Robin Williams offered another tribute. "Jonathan Winters was my mentor," Williams said of the actor-comedian. "I told him that and he said, 'Please, I prefer 'idol.'"
The show also lacked the energy of the musical opening segments that Harris has made a trademark of his much-acclaimed hosting jobs, including the Tonys
Harris started out the ceremony with help — and harassment — from past hosts including Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch and Conan O'Brien. When they started to squabble, nominee Kevin Spacey of the online show "House of Cards" got a close-up.
"It's all going according to my plan. I was promised the hosting job this year and they turned me down," Spacey said, channeling the scheming politician he plays on the digital series.
Jeff Daniels won the Emmy for best drama actor for his role as self-righteous news anchor Will McAvoy in the HBO drama "Newsroom."
It was Daniels' first Emmy nomination. Daniels' win was considered an upset in a category where his competition included Bryan Cranston, Damian Lewis, Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm. It was the third major acting award given out Sunday to an actor on an HBO series.
Claire Danes of Showtime's "Homeland" has won her second straight award for best actress in a drama for her role as CIA agent Carrie Mathison.
The Emmy Sunday represented the third time Danes has taken home a trophy in four years. She won a best actor award for a TV movie in 2010 for her role in HBO's "Temple Grandin."
Life became complicated for Danes' "Homeland" character, as she became romantically involved with the former POW who is suspected of turning against his country.
Danes was nominated for a best actress Emmy in 1995 for "My So-Called Life."
Other winners include:
Writing, Comedy Series: Tina Fey, Tracey Wigfield, "30 Rock"
Directing, Comedy Series: Gail Mancuso, "Modern Family," ABC
Writing, Drama Series: Henry Bromell, "Homeland," Showtime
Reality-Competition Program: "The Voice," NBC
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Bobby Cannavale, "Boardwalk Empire," HBO
Directing, Drama Series: David Fincher, "House of Cards," Netflix
Writing, Variety Series: "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central
Directing, Variety Series: Don Roy King, "Saturday Night Live, NBC"
Variety Series: "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central
Choreography: Derek Hough, "Dancing With the Stars," ABC
Writing, Miniseries or Movie: Abi Morgan, "The Hour," BBC America
Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie: James Cromwell, "American Horror Story: Asylum," FX Networks
Directing, Miniseries or Movie: Steven Soderbergh, "Behind The Candelabra," HBO
Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Ellen Burstyn, "Political Animals," USA
Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Michael Douglas, "Behind the Candelabra," HBO
Miniseries or Movie: "Behind the Candelabra," HBO