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Emmys 2021: 5 key takeaways from TV's big night

We broke down the five major storylines from the 73rd Emmy Awards.
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"The Crown," "Ted Lasso" and "The Queen's Gambit" nabbed top honors Sunday at the 73rd Emmy Awards, capping off a ceremony that largely shied away from political speeches and failed to recognize a single performer of color in the 12 major acting categories.

The big winner of the night was "The Crown," a lavish portrait of the British royal family that earned seven trophies — including a first best drama series triumph for Netflix, the show's streaming home.

Apple TV's feel-good comedy "Ted Lasso" came second on the final tally of trophies handed out Sunday, overcoming tepid reviews for its second season and scooping up four awards, including best comedy series and acting honors for Jason Sudeikis.

The ceremony, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, stretched across more than four hours and gained attention on social media as much for what it seemed to exclude as for its actual content. Here's a look at some of the key storylines coming out of the television industry's marquee night.

No wins for performers of color

The list of acting nominees at this year's Emmys was diverse, featuring performers such as Mj Rodriguez and Billy Porter of "Pose," as well as "Bridgerton" breakout star Regé-Jean Page and the late Michael K. Williams.

But over the course of the night, not a single performer of color was honored in the acting categories. The winners in all 12 major acting fields are white.

The shut-out of performers of color was especially notable given the intense scrutiny on Hollywood award shows in recent years over issues of diversity and representation.

The racial makeup of this year's group of winners may owe something to the shows garnering the most attention, including "The Crown," "Ted Lasso," "Mare of Easttown," "Hacks" and "The Queen's Gambit." Although there are actors of color on those popular shows, they are anchored by predominantly white performers.

'Ted Lasso' dominates comedy field

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The second season of "Ted Lasso" has received what might charitably be described as a mixed response from viewers and critics. But the backlash to the Apple TV+ hit did not blunt the show's momentum at the Emmys — and Television Academy voters were evidently won over by its relentless optimism.

The show, a fish-out-of-water tale about an American football coach who is hired to run an English soccer club, claimed the top comedy award and picked up prizes for Sudeikis (lead actor in a comedy series), as well as supporting actors Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein.

"Ted Lasso" was so ubiquitous that Stephen Colbert, accepting the award for live variety special, joked that he was grateful Sudeikis and company were not nominated in the category so he would have a chance to win.

"Hacks," HBO's comedy about the relationship between a veteran Las Vegas comedian (Jean Smart) and a young writer (Hannah Einbinder), was not far behind, however. Smart won her fourth Emmy for her lead performance and the series was feted for its writing and directing.

Image: The 73rd Emmy Awards Brett Goldstein
Cliff Lipson / CBS

Politics kept to a minimum

In the Trump era, awards show presenters and winners often used their minutes in the limelight to take aim at the 45th president with direct criticism or loaded allusions to the hot-button issues that defined Donald Trump's presidency.

But this year, Emmy attendees largely stayed away from the political humor and topical speechifying that had become typical. The night was short on explicit mentions of President Joe Biden's administration, the new Texas abortion law and other headline-grabbing topics.

But there were some notable exceptions.

“Let this moment resonate with women across the world, across this country and across the world, from Texas to Afghanistan. Let them know,” Debbie Allen said while accepting the honorary Governors Award. “And also with young people, who have no vote, who can’t even get a vaccine, they are inheriting the world that we leave them. It is time to claim your power, claim your voice, say your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”

"Impeachment: American Crime Story" star Sarah Paulson, for her part, made a pointed joke about the gender pay gap in the entertainment industry and beyond, while Colbert mocked California for spending millions of dollars on a campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.

What pandemic?

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The awards shows that have rolled out the red carpet during the coronavirus pandemic have been peculiar experiences. Last year's edition of the Emmys, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, was a (mostly) virtual affair that did not feature an in-studio audience.

This year's Emmys struck many at-home viewers as a return to a familiar format — for better or worse. The crowd of nominees, guests and other television industry figures appeared to be crammed closely together inside a tent without a mask in sight.

Seth Rogen, presenting the first award of the night, nodded to the look of environment, saying: "There is way too many of us in this little room."

"They told me this was outside," he added. "Why is there a roof? What are all you people doing?"

In the lead-up to the show, Emmys producers insisted that vaccinations and a proof of a negative Covid-19 test were required for all attendees, and the TV academy limited the number of attendees allowed in the room to around 600, according to Variety.

In memoriam

The annual "In Memoriam" segment paid tribute to a wide range of entertainment industry luminaries who died in the last year, including talk-show host Larry King, "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, actor Ed Asner and Hollywood legend Cicely Tyson.

But there were particularly moving celebrations of two TV greats who recently died: Michael K. Williams (a nominee for his supporting turn on HBO's "Lovecraft Country") and Norm Macdonald.

Williams, an icon of modern television who played Omar Little on "The Wire" and appeared on other acclaimed dramas, was the last person featured in the video. Kerry Washington, presenting the award for best supporting actor in a drama series, praised his "excellence" and "artistry."

Macdonald, a former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and deadpan comedian, received special-outs, too. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels mentioned him in an acceptance speech, while John Oliver implored viewers to watch Macdonald clips on YouTube, "because it doesn’t get better than that."