LOS ANGELES— “The Sopranos” turned its cut-to-black final season into Emmy gold Sunday, winning the best drama series award, and newcomer “30 Rock” was named best comedy series.
The mob saga’s victory was nearly unprecedented, with only one other drama series, 1977’s “Upstairs, Downstairs,” having claimed the top trophy after leaving the air.
“In essence, this is a story about a gangster,” said “The Sopranos” creator David Chase. “And gangsters are out there taking their kids to college, and taking their kids to school, and putting food on their table.
“And, hell, let’s face it, if the world and this nation was run by gangsters” — Chase paused and shrugged as everyone laughed — “maybe it is.”
“Sopranos” stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco didn’t fare as well.
James Spader was named best drama series actor for “Boston Legal,” stealing the thunder of fellow nominee Gandolfini.
“Oh my goodness, I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob. And they’re all sitting over there,” Spader said, acknowledging him and the rest of “The Sopranos” cast in the Shrine Auditorium audience.
Sally Field was honored as best actress in a drama for “Brothers & Sisters.” Falco was among her competitors.
“How can that be? These wonderful actors,” Field said. Cleary flustered, she lost her train of thought at one point, shouting at the audience to stop applauding while she struggled to finish her acceptance speech.
America Fererra of the campy “Ugly Betty” was named best actress in a comedy series.
“This is such an amazing, wonderful achievement. The award is to be able to get up and go to work tomorrow,” Ferrera said.
The biggest laugh of the night was earned by presenters Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, after they announced that Ricky Gervais of “Extras” had won the award for best comedy series actor.
“Ricky Gervais could not be here tonight. Instead we’re going to give this to our friend, Steve Carell,” Stewart said. Carell, a nominee for “The Office,” bounded on stage, and shared a group hug with Stewart and Colbert.
Supporting actor honors went to stars of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” “Entourage” and “My Name is Earl.”
“My own mother told me I didn’t have a shot in hell at winning tonight,” said Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “This is my dream come true. I’ve been doing this for 17 years.”
A mob family, a former vice president and the cast of “Roots” brought the audience to its feet at the ceremony.
Al Gore received a standing ovation as his Current TV channel, which features viewer-created videos, was honored for achievement in interactive television.
“We are trying to open up the television medium so that viewers can help to make television, and join the conversation of democracy, and reclaim American democracy by talking about the choices we have to make,” said Gore, whose global-warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” received an Oscar earlier this year.
Another standing ovation greeted the sprawling cast of “The Sopranos,” which gathered on stage after the drama had claimed honors for best writing and directing. Actor Joe Mantegna paid tribute to the show as “having changed the face of television.”
Queen Latifah helped salute the groundbreaking miniseries “Roots” on its 30th anniversary. The saga about a black American family’s history “brought great honor to the art form that we celebrate tonight,” she said.
“Let us all work to ensure that we all honor the legacy of ’Roots’ not just tonight but in everything we do,” added “Roots” star John Amos, reunited onstage with his castmates to yet another standing ovation.
The usually staid awards needed attention from the censors from the start, with first presenter Ray Romano. He joked about his former “Everybody Loves Raymond” wife, Patricia Heaton, sleeping with her new “Back to You” co-star Kelsey Grammer.
But he used a stronger word, which prompted Fox to black out the show for a few seconds. Heigl mouthed another expletive, which Fox unsuccessfully tried to evade with a different camera shot.
Terry O’Quinn, who plays the mysterious John Locke on “Lost,” was named best supporting actor in a drama.
“Sometimes when we’re rolling around in the jungle in the mud, hitting each other and stabbing each other, I wonder what it would be like to bake up a sheet of cookies on Wisteria Lane and get one of their checks,” O’Quinn said, referring to “Desperate Housewives.”
“Then I think about my castmates and crewmates, and I realize why I have the best job in the world,” said O’Quinn, whose award came in a resurgent creative season for the series.
Jeremy Piven, who plays a slick Hollywood agent on the comedy “Entourage,” was another early winner.
“What an embarrassment of riches to even be able to play this role,” Piven said.
“I want to thank our entire crew. I don’t know any of their names,” he joked.
Jaime Pressly of “My Name is Earl,” was named best supporting actress in a comedy.
“Broken Trail” was honored as best miniseries and drew awards for stars Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.
Oscar winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) was honored as best actress in a miniseries or movie for “Prime Suspect,” making her the category’s biggest winner with four awards.
“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” received its fifth consecutive trophy as best variety, music or comedy series. Stewart noted the satiric news show sent correspondents to Iraq this year who “found laughs in hell. I think it’s the proudest thing we found so far.”
In an animated opening, cartoon characters from “Family Guy” spoofed the industry in a song-and-dance number on a specially designed set-in-the-round at the Shrine Auditorium.
Then host Ryan Seacrest took over.
He saluted hosts of years past, including Johnny Carson, Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres: “Sure, they were brilliant, if that’s what you’re into.” After briefly bantering with audience members, including Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives,” the “American Idol” host turned the ceremony over to the awards and to those with comedy on their resumes.
Romano and DeGeneres did comedy bits and Lewis Black offered a mini-stand up routine.
Even Kayne West did his part, competing in a “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” spoof with Rainn Wilson of “The Office.” Told to finish off the lyrics of West’s new single, “Stronger,” West sang “you” instead of “ya” and Wilson got it right.
“I never win,” muttered West, jokingly; he’s been publicly peeved over previous awards show losses.