Millions watched "Mad Men" make history on ABC as basic cable's first show to win a best drama award at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Way up the tuner on AMC, a tiny sliver of that audience watched the most recent "Mad Men."
Same scenario for "30 Rock," which nabbed four trophies Sunday night, including the NBC show's second consecutive nod for best comedy series. Tina Fey used her moment in the spotlight to beg for more viewers.
"'30 Rock' is available to be viewed on NBC.com, Hulu.com, iTunes, Verizon phones, United Airlines and occasionally on actual television," Fey quipped.
Bryan Cranston won best actor in a drama series for "Breaking Bad," while Glenn Close won best actress for her role on "Damages." Neither show is burning up the Nielsen ratings, either.
On a night when TV salutes its biggest talent, the glory went to the little guys. Even the reality-show category went to a ratings struggler that's dominated the category for years: "The Amazing Race" took its sixth award for best reality-competition program, beating out ratings bullies "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars."
But the night's biggest prize belonged to the sleek '60s drama "Mad Men," set in the advertising world of Madison Avenue. Such an honor for a show that's lucky to draw 2 million viewers on a good night signaled that Sunday truly belonged to boutique TV.
"I want to thank all the people that went before us in television to make a show like this because we're just channeling it every day and we love going to work," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, who also was honored for drama series writing for the show's pilot.
But any of these shows hoping for an Emmy-related ratings bump can get a dose of reality from the folks of "30 Rock," which won top comedy series honors last year, too - yet still struggled to get traction in its most recent season.
Sunday's big winners further illustrated the disconnect between critical acclaim and what Americans are watching - much like this year's Oscars, where the quirky crime saga "No Country for Old Men" won a leading four awards, including best picture, and the top four acting prizes went to Europeans.
"Anything that can help focus on what's going on with the shows is incredibly useful," said Close, who plays a ruthless attorney on FX's "Damages."
"I'm proud to be on a show that was next to `Mad Men,' and that they were the first two shows to be nominated from basic cable. I hope it will happen more in the future."
Close's co-star Zeljko Ivanek was honored as supporting drama actor, while Dianne Wiest of HBO's "In Treatment" won supporting drama actress. "I was just incredibly pleased for the show," Ivanek said backstage. "It's a little tougher for a cable show to get the same traction as a network show."
"30 Rock" co-star Alec Baldwin won his first Emmy as lead actor in a comedy series. "This is the greatest job I've ever had in my life," Baldwin said of his role as an ambitious TV executive.
He paid tribute to Fey as "the Elaine May of her generation," invoking the writer who formed a comedy team in the '60s with future movie director Mike Nichols.
"I thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do," said Fey, who also won Emmys for best actress and writing in a comedy series.
Jean Smart of ABC's "Samantha Who?" was honored as best supporting actress in a comedy series, with Jeremy Piven winning a third consecutive supporting comedy actor trophy for "Entourage."
HBO won a leading 26 Emmys despite not having a drama series nominee for the first time in a decade. The premium cable network's "John Adams" won five trophies, including miniseries acting honors for Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson.
The historical drama about one of America's founding fathers set a record for most awards, 13, including eight previously announced. The record of 11 was held by HBO's "Angels in America," the TV academy said.
HBO's "Recount," about the contested 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election, was honored in the made for TV movie and movie directing categories.
CBS's "The Amazing Race" and variety, music or comedy series winner "The Daily Show" are tied for the most consecutive wins in a best program category.
Jeff Probst of "Survivor," one of the Emmys' five co-hosts who included "Project Runway's" Heidi Klum and "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest, claimed the first-ever award for reality series host.
As the evening progressed, politics went from having a cameo to a costarring role. "I really look forward to the next administration, whoever it is," said Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show."
Later, Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose "The Colbert Report" won a writing trophy, teamed up to present an award - and exchange banter in which they used a package of prunes as a metaphor for the upcoming presidential election.
"America needs prunes. It may not be a young, sexy plum. Granted, it's shriveled and at times hard to swallow. But this dried-up old prune has the experience we need," Colbert said.
Tommy Smothers received a commemorative writing award for his work on the cutting-edge and controversial "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" from the late '60s - and turned serious.
"It's hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. And there's nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action," he said, dedicating his award to "all people who feel compelled to speak out, and are not afraid to speak to power, and won't shut up and refuse to be silenced."
Martin Sheen, who played a president on "The West Wing," lauded television for giving America a front-row seat to real presidential campaigns. Then he urged viewers to vote for "the candidate of your choice, at least once."