This handout picture released courtesy of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./ABC shows Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson after receiving the Emmy for Watchmen during the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony held virtually on September 20, 2020. (Image Group LA/ABC/AFP/File)
"Watchmen," a dark superhero series that tackles US racism, triumphed at the Emmys on Sunday as winners beamed in live to an empty Los Angeles theater for Hollywood's first major COVID-era awards show.
Four wins on the night including for best limited series brought the timely HBO graphic novel spin-off's win total haul to 11 at television's equivalent of the Oscars, with its creators dedicating the win to African-American victims of the 1921 Tulsa massacre.
"The only way to put the fires out is to fight them together," said Damon Lindelof, accepting the best limited series prize.
"History is mystery -- it's broken into a million puzzle pieces. We know finding them will hurt. Sometimes we caused that hurt, maybe we even benefited from it," added Lindelof, who is white.
A timely blend of sociopathic superheroes and political satire based on a seminal 1980s graphic novel, "Watchmen" won rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.
The series, which debuted last year, depicts white supremacists, police brutality and rows over mask-wearing -- all subjects of intensely polarized national debate as the United States gears up for November's presidential election.
Many viewers learned about the real-life, deadly destruction of "Black Wall Street" in Oklahoma for the first time through the HBO show's pilot.
Another noir-ish flashback episode depicting a young black 1930s New York cop's struggles with blatant racism, including a near-lynching and a secret Ku Klux Klan-style society, won for best writing.
"'Watchmen' was a story about trauma, and the lasting scars of white domestic terrorism, police corruption and brutality," said supporting actor winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
"Watchmen" had already won seven statuettes in awards presented before the broadcast, bringing its overall tally two short of the all-time record of 13 held by "John Adams."
'Schitt's Creek' sweeps
Nominees and winners for the 72nd Emmys beamed in remotely from their homes and socially distanced gatherings via video call, as Los Angeles is still under tough coronavirus-related restrictions.
Earlier in the night, the cast of offbeat Canadian series "Schitt's Creek" gathered in Toronto as they swept the "virtual" ceremony's comedy prizes.
"Our show at its core is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance. We need it now more than ever before," said co-star and co-creator Daniel Levy.
"Schitt's Creek" -- about a privileged family forced to live in a rundown motel -- failed to earn a single nomination in its first four years, but it gained attention by later airing on Netflix and signed off with a heartwarming final season.
"I'll forever be grateful to Eugene and Daniel Levy for giving me the opportunity to play a woman of a certain age, my age, who gets to be fully her ridiculous self," said Catherine O'Hara, handed the night's first statuette for best comedy actress by a presenter in a hazmat suit.
Eugene Levy, her on-screen husband, followed that up by scooping the best actor trophy -- only to be followed by his real-life son Daniel, for best supporting actor and writing, before the father-son pair accepted the overall comedy prize.
It also won for comedy directing and writing.
Beyond the wins for "Watchmen," tackling racism was a prominent theme of the night, with actors and creators donning T-shirts bearing slogans for black victims of police violence and the Tulsa massacre.
The night honored the career achievement of billionaire African-American entertainment mogul Tyler Perry, who has championed greater diversity in Hollywood.
Mark Ruffalo, who won for limited series "I Know This Much Is True," spoke for many in famously liberal Hollywood by appearing to warn voters over President Donald Trump's re-election bid.
"We have a big, important moment ahead of us -- are we going to be a country of division and hatred... or are we going to be one of love, strength, and fighting for all of us?" he asked in an impassioned acceptance speech.
Another major theme was the pandemic itself, which has turned Tinseltown upside down, bringing productions to a halt even as stay-at-home orders around the world send binge-watching through the roof.
Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the Emmys from a theater filled with cardboard cutouts of A-listers, quipping: "Hello and welcome to the pand-Emmys."
Producers pranked television viewers by initially cutting to archive footage of a star-studded audience, before revealing the venue's empty seats.
After a brief in-person appearance, Jennifer Aniston reunited from a seemingly remote location via video call with "Friends" co-stars Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow.
Other nominees -- who wore gowns, tuxedos, casual wear and everything in between -- were sent cameras to hook up in venues of their choosing.
The show was set to conclude with the prestigious, show-concluding drama series categories, where "Succession" -- a dark portrait of a powerful Murdoch-esque family's wrangling for control of a dynastic media empire -- was tied for nods with "Ozark," Jason Bateman's crime saga.
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