6 Things We Liked About the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards (and 1 We Hated)

Mike Crisolago | September 21st, 2015

From heartfelt speeches to spoiler alerts, our recap of the 2015 Primetime Emmys.

Red carpet, musical opening, monologue, awards for three hours, repeat: sure there’s not a lot of originality when it comes to the award show formula these days, but that doesn’t mean a program like the Primetime Emmys can’t provide some genuinely exciting or touching moments. In fact, from historic wins to tearful returns, this year’s Emmys offered a few key water cooler moments.

Viola Davis Makes Emmy History

Viola Davis, 50, made history when the How to Get Away With Murder star became the first African American woman to win the award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

Davis, who trained at Julliard and has won two Tony Awards, took the stage to accept her award and deliver one of the best acceptance speeches of the evening:

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that simply are not there. So here’s to the awesome writers, to all the people … people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be black.“

A number of celebs took to Twitter to celebrate her win, including:

Oprah Winfrey: “Wow , WOW! Another proud to spell my name W.O.M.A.N. Moment. Thank you @violadavis #EmmyWinner”

Janet Mock (author and TV host): “#ViolaDavis evoked Harriet Tubman, spoke the names of her sisters & explicitly celebrated black womanhood. #Emmys”

Gabrielle Union: “OMG!!! I’m floored… and proud and crying… VIOLA VIOLA VIOLA!!! Thank you for letting us share your shine!!! Man… tears”

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More Emmy Firsts

Amazon Studios won its first ever Primetime Emmy when Jill Soloway, 49, picked up the award for Best Directing in a Comedy for Transparent.

Frances McDormand, 58, added to her Best Actress award collection – she’s got an Oscar and a Tony Award in that category – by winning her first Emmy, for Lead Actress in Limited Series or Movie for Olive Kitteridge, followed by a delightfully short speech: “My colleagues Jane and Lisa have already given the thank-you’s that need to be said. We’re all here because of the power of the stories that need to be told. Sometimes that’s enough. Thank you.”

And sometimes, there’s one more thank you to be said. McDormand’s co-star, Richard Jenkins, 68, also won his first Emmy – on his first nomination no less – for Best Lead Actor in Limited Series or Movie for Olive Kitteridge.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart nabbed its first Writing in a Variety Series award while Jon Hamm won for Best Actor in a Drama for Mad Men – his first Emmy after seven previous nominations – receiving a standing ovation for the feat.

Record-Setters

Allison Janney, 55, sung her way through her acceptance speech for her seventh Emmy, sets record tying Ed Asner for most performance Emmys in history in truly humble fashion.

Game of Thrones also had a huge record-setting evening, becoming the first fantasy series to win for Best Drama and setting the record for most overall Emmy wins in a year with 12 (this includes the untelevised Creative Arts Emmys).

Meanwhile, GoT’s network, HBO, scored 14 Emmy wins – more than every other network combined for the evening.

Touching Speeches

In addition to Viola Davis and Frances McDormand’s great speeches, a few other stars showed they have a genuine way with words.

Jeffrey Tambor won the award for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy for Transparent and had this to say: “I had a teacher who used to say that you should act as if your life depends on it. And now I act because other people’s lives depend on it.” He then dedicated his award to the transgender community: “Thank you for your patience, than you for your courage, thank you for your stories, thank you for your inspiration, than you for letting us be part of the change.”

Jane Anderson, 61, the scribe who took home the award for Limited Series or Movie Writing for Olive Kitteridge, danced to the stage to deliver a touching, heartfelt speech before getting played off by the orchestra, while her leading lady, McDormand, reminded host Andy Samberg that Olive Kitteridge, “started as a book! Okay, Andy?”

Uzo Aduba, who picked up her second Emmy for her role as “Crazy Eyes” on Orange is the New Black, this time for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, delivered a tearful speech thanking the series’ creator Jenji Kohan, her cast mates and others. “If I could say thank you a thousand times it would not be enough to cover the amount of thanks​ for you … I love you most mostly because you let me be me.” She went on to thank those closest to her, saying, “I really just wanna say thank you to my family who has stood beside me my entire life. My sister Chi-Chi, you are my very best friend. I am humbled to call myself your sister. I love you so much.”

Jon Stewart, 52, accepted the award when The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won for Best Talk Variety Series in its final year. The recently retired host joked, “To everyone on television, cling to it like death … it is a barren waste land out there.”

Perhaps, however, the most inspiring speech of the night came when Tracy Morgan, 46, took the stage to present the award for Best Drama. After being involved in a fatal auto accident last year, a teary-eyed Morgan arrived to a standing ovation and thanked everyone for their support. Then, just to show that he’s on his way back, he closed with a textbook Morgan gag: “I only recently started feeling like myself again, which means a whole lot of you are gonna get pregnant at the after party.”

Emmy Love for VEEP and Olive Kitteridge

As noted earlier, Game of Thrones set the record for most Emmy wins in a year with 12, but Olive Kitteridge and VEEP also felt the Emmy love. The former won eight Emmys overall in the limited series or movie category, including for best actor, actress, supporting actor, director and writing. VEEP won five awards in the comedy series category, including Best Comedy and Best Lead Actress for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 54.

The Ultimate Spoiler Alert

Good idea: put together a video tribute to all the great shows that signed off for good this past year, from Sons of Anarchy to Mad Men to Boardwalk Empire, True Blood and Nurse Jackie.

Bad idea: Have that montage include the final and/or most pivotal closing moments of each of those shows, effectively ruining the ending for every person who has yet to see them.

The ultimate in stupidity, especially in this age of DVR and binge-watching, the Emmys faced such an immediate backlash via social media that they were forced to admit their own mistake when host Andy Samberg joked about the gaffe in a following segment.

Timing is Everything

The show, like most award shows, dragged early. It started at 8 p.m. and only made it to the Drama category at 10:08 p.m. Remarkably, however, the show managed to end at 10:58 p.m. – two full minutes before its scheduled end time of 11 p.m.

An award show that ends early? These producers and the director should be hired to manage every other award show moving forward.