Midway through Hour Three of this year’s Emmys, host Neil Patrick Harris joked: “No one in America is winning their office pool.” Except that wasn’t really a joke: The 2013 Emmy Awards featured seven big upsets in the major primetime awards. Longtime also-rans got their moment in the sun. Some low-key performances beat out showier and more popular contenders. And, well, the boys of Breaking Bad boys went home emptyhanded. (But don’t weep for them too much.) Below, we rank the upsets from “We should’ve seen that coming” to “We couldn’t have seen that coming even if we were writing a TV show about this two years from now.”
7. The Colbert Report for Outstanding Variety Series
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart won this award for a straight decade, a winning streak unparallelled in Emmys history. But if any series was ever going to beat Daily Show, it had to be spinoff Colbert. Colbert’s win comes, somewhat auspiciously, after Stewart took the summer off. Could this indicate a changing of the guard in the Comedy Central late night political-comedy racket? More importantly: Since it technically aired outside this year’s Emmys eligibility period, does this mean we might get an acceptance-speech recreation of the Colbert “Get Lucky” video at Emmys 2014?
6. The Big C: Hereafter’s Laura Linney for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries/Movie
In a category that tends to favor movie actresses vacationing on the small screen, Linney had to face down Sigourney Weaver and Helen Mirren, not to mention last year’s winner Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Moss’ quiet-dynamo performance in Top of the Lake. But Linney had a lot going for her in this category. Award-baiting Big Moments (hey, her character was dying). Her status as a well-respected actor’s actor. And there’s the curious fact that The Big C’s final season was considered a “miniseries” – arguably giving her a leg up, since she’d been playing the character for a few years already.
5. Veep’s Tony Hale for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Hale broke a Modern Family streak, taking the prize for his role as Gary, the number one toadie on Air Force Two. It’s a well-deserved prize for Hale, who also had one of the best centric episodes in Arrested Development’s Netflix-resurrection season. Hale may have benefited from some Family vote-splitting – past winner Ty Burell was nominated alongside Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill. But you also can’t overlook the J-Lou bump: Playing the essential second fiddle to popular repeat winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus provided an even better showcase for Hale’s gifts.
4. Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
We should have known to expect anything from the category with a history of eccentric choices. (Zeljko Ivanek! Michael Emerson! Aaron Paul back when Aaron Paul seemed like an eccentric choice and not the frontrunner!) But Cannavale was competing in a crowded field, including Jonathan Banks (whose Mike was practically the main character of last year’s Breaking Bad half-season) and the ascendant Mandy Patinkin (whose Saul was the most fascinating and coherent character in Homeland’s second season.) Not to mention past winners Paul and Peter Dinklage. In hindsight, though, Cannavale had a trump card. In a category filled with quiet power, Cannavale’s Gyp Rosetti was written as a scenery-chewing, head-bashing half-cartoon mega-persona – an impossible character who Cannavale somehow made believable by going miles over the top at all times. Put it this way: No other nominee could say, “I filmed a gunfight where I was completely naked and covered in blood.” Rosetti was like a greatest-hits album in character form: The kind of performance that wins awards just for sheer amount of effort.
3. The Voice for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race won nine of the last ten years. Top Chef won on the odd year out. Even if you thought Race would lose this year, easy money had Top Chef or the classy-by-comparison Project Runway. Now, on top of its ratings bragging rights, NBC’s ascendant singing series can point out that it has won infinitely more Emmys than American Idol (to say nothing of The X-Factor.)
2. Nurse Jackie’s Merrit Wever for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Another category overcrowded with heavy hitters, like past winners Jane Lynch and Julie Bowen, not to mention Jane Krakowski and Sofia Vergara for showcase seasons of of 30 Rock and Modern Family. Wever was kind enough to help us through our shock by delivering one of the shortest and sweetest speeches in awards show history.
1. The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels for Outstanding Actor in a Drama
Bryan Cranston, in a season of Breaking Bad that saw his character build an empire and lose his soul. Jon Hamm, in a season of Mad Men that saw Don Draper on a shocking downward spiral. Last year’s winner Damian Lewis, in a season of Homeland that broke his character down completely. Kevin Spacey, in a season of House of Cards that gave him a cool accent and lots of funny lines to say in that cool accent. Hugh Bonneville, still playing your fantasy father on Downton Abbey. And the winner was…Jeff Daniels, for his role as bizarro-Keith Olbermann in Aaron Sorkin’s let’s-call-it-flawed The Newsroom? A nation of Hamm fans suddenly rejoiced that their boy gets two more shots at the gold.