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Laura Linney was named best actress in a miniseries or movie for "The Big C: Hereafter." ‘’The Voice" won best reality-competition program, and Tina Fey won for writing "30 Rock."
Michael Douglas was honored as best actor for his portrayal of Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra," besting his co-star Matt Damon. The film also captured a top trophy as best movie or miniseries.
"This is a two-hander and Matt, you’re only as good as your other hand," Douglas said, then got really racy: "You want the bottom or the top?"
Bobby Cannavale, from "Boardwalk Empire," won as best supporting actor in a drama, and Anna Gunn from "Breaking Bad" won the best actress award in the same category.
Derek Hough of "Dancing with the Stars" won the trophy for best choreography, which offered an opportunity to include an upbeat dance number late in the show.
In the variety show category, "The Colbert Report" broke a 10-year winning streak held by "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." It also won for best writing for a variety show.
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.’"
Also honored was Cory Monteith, the "Glee" star who died at age 31 in July of a drug and alcohol overdose. "His death is a tragic reminder of the rapacious, senseless destruction that is brought on by addiction," said his co-star Jane Lynch.
The inclusion of Monteith as one of five extended goodbyes despite his abbreviated career and the exclusion of such enduring stars as Jack Klugman and Larry Hagman drew criticism from some. Adam Klugman, son of "The Odd Couple" actor, called his father’s omission "criminal."
Edie Falco recalled her late "The Sopranos" co-star James Gandolfini, saluting him for his "fierce loyalty" to his friends and family and his work with military veterans.
"You all knew Jim the actor. I was lucky enough to know Jim the man," she said.
Harris started out the ceremony with help — and harassment — from past hosts including Jimmy Kimmel, 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.
Diahann Carroll, the first African-American Emmy nominee in 1963 for "Naked City," created one of the night’s most heartfelt moments when she took the stage with Washington and noted the importance of diversity in the industry and Emmys.
"Tonight, she better get this award," Carroll said of Washington, who covered her eyes in embarrassment. Danes’ victory denied Washington a chance to end a 45-year drought for black women winning the best drama award.
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