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HBO dramas dominate ratings-challenged virtual Emmy awards

[NEW YORK] The more the TV business changes, the more the Emmy Awards stay the same.

Succession, a show about a dysfunctional family that controls a media empire, won the award for best drama from the Television Academy Sunday night. The win marks the fifth time in the last six years that HBO has won the top prize at the celebration of the year's best TV.

HBO's Watchmen - a wrenching exploration of racism based on the graphic novel - earned the most awards of any show, with 11, including best limited series. The wins burnish HBO's reputation as the home of the best TV in the US, if not the world, setting a lofty standard for a phalanx of new streaming services, including Disney+, Peacock, Apple TV+ and Quibi.

The award ceremony itself, meanwhile, failed to reverse a long-term ratings trend: The total audience dropped 14 per cent to a new low on Walt Disney's ABC, according to preliminary Nielsen data reported by Deadline.

HBO won 30 awards in all, the most of any network. Though Pop TV's Schitt's Creek owned the night in terms of comedy awards, HBO won most everything else.

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Skeptics have wondered how HBO would fare after the end of Game of Thrones - the most popular programme in its history and one of the most lauded shows of all time. And there's more pressure than ever to deliver. New owner AT&T has created the streaming service HBO Max to expand the scope of the network's programming, pitting it head-to-head with deep-pocketed rivals.

The answer appears to be, just fine. Succession, which completed its second season, is beloved among the coastal elite, who have long comprised HBO's core audience. And Watchmen arrived at the perfect time, offering a reminder of the history of racism in the US just as protests against systemic injustice swept the nation.

Jesse Armstrong, the creator of Succession, celebrated his victory by offering a series of "un-thank-yous." He knocked the coronavirus, the leaders of the US and England, nationalism, and media moguls. Armstrong appeared via videoconference, as did all the winners in the first virtual Emmy Awards.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel hosted the show from a mostly empty auditorium, appearing alongside a handful of celebrities who entered to read off the nominees.

"We are attempting to do something that's never been attempted before," Kimmel said. "You know how hard it is to get your parents to FaceTime? Multiply that by a lot." 

Netflix, which set a record for the most nominations of any network, struck out again in its pursuit of the top awards. The streaming service won 21 prizes in all, the second-most, collecting trophies in categories like best directing for a limited series and outstanding unstructured reality series. Yet it failed to capture best drama, comedy or limited series.

Netflix has spent hundreds of millions of dollars chasing awards, eager to use the cachet to lure new customers and Hollywood talent. It earned the most Emmy nominations of any network two years ago, and the most Oscar nominations of any studio earlier this year. And yet Netflix can't seem to break through when it comes to top prizes.

Though Netflix didn't win any of the night's biggest awards, it is responsible for the broader appreciation of Schitt's Creek, the quirky comedy about a wealthy family that loses everything. The final season of the show swept the comedy categories Sunday night, making it the first show to win all seven comedy awards during the Primetime Emmys.

Created by Daniel Levy, Schitt's Creek nabbed nine Emmy awards in all, including best comedy, best writing and all the related acting prizes, capping its rise from a Canadian sitcom with a cult following to one of the most celebrated shows on TV.

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