LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "Mad Men" is the winner of its fourth consecutive Emmy Award for best drama.
The series about Madison Avenue and America in the changing 1960s proved dominant once more, although its stars including Jon Hamm failed to capture awards.
Other contenders in the category included "Boardwalk Empire" and "Friday Night Lights."
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Kyle Chandler was a surprise Emmy winner Sunday for best actor for the last season of Texas football drama "Friday Night Lights," blocking odds-on favorites among his fellow nominees.
Julianna Margulies won top drama acting honors for "The Good Wife."
"I knew for a fact I would not be standing here. I did not write anything and now I'm starting to worry," said Chandler, who beat out frontrunners Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" and Steve Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire."
It was a fitting victory for him and "Friday Night Lights," which was critically acclaimed but struggled for an audience, and whose high school football team's motto was, "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
Margulies, who navigates politics, law and family in the show, added to her Emmy stash. As part of the "ER" medical drama cast, she won a supporting actress Emmy in 1995.
Melissa McCarthy of "Mike & Molly" was honored as best lead actress in a comedy series with an Emmy and a glitzy prom queen's crown, while Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" earned his second trophy in the best actor category.
"Holy smokes. Wow, it's my first and best pageant ever," said a beaming McCarthy. "I'm from Plainfield, Ill., and I'm standing here and it's kind of amazing."
Moments earlier, she and her fellow nominees had broken with tradition by jumping up on stage as their names were called, led by Amy Poehler of "Parks and Recreation."
They earned a standing ovation from many in the audience, which seemed fitting in a year in which TV shows and movies are giving women edgier leading roles. Among them is the box-office hit "Bridesmaids," which featured McCarthy.
Parsons looked genuinely surprised at his victory. "This is so odd for so many reasons. I was assured by many people in my life that this wasn't happening," he said.
The first awards in the drama category went to Jason Katims of "Friday Night Lights" for outstanding writing, and Margo Martindale, named best supporting actress for the show "Justified."
"Sometimes, things just take time. But with time comes great appreciation," said the veteran actress.
Peter Dinklage, the winning actor in the category for sci-fi fantasy "Game of Thrones," was awed by another winner, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who received a directing trophy for "Boardwalk Empire."
"Thanks. Wow. Wow. I followed Martin Scorsese. My heart is pounding. You are a legend," Dinklage said.
The ceremony aired by Fox opened with a pre-taped comedy sketch that generated controversy because Alec Baldwin's part was cut after he included a joke about the News Corp. phone hacking scandal. Fox is a unit of News Corp.
Baldwin tweeted that Fox killed the joke about the hacking scandal in Britain involving the now-closed News of the World tabloid. Fox said it believed the joke was inappropriate to make light of an issue being taken very seriously by the company.
Leonard Nimoy stepped in and the bit was retaped. It featured host Jane Lynch celebrating television in a musical number, singing about TV as "a vast wonderland, a kingdom of joy in a box."
Charlie Sheen presented the lead actor award, using his time onstage to make nice with his former "Two and a Half Men" colleagues. He was fired from the show after bitterly clashing with its producer and studio and replaced by Ashton Kutcher.
"From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season," he said. "I know you will continue to make great television."
"Modern Family" won the first four Emmys, capturing best supporting comedy actress, best supporting comedy actor, best writing for a comedy and best direction for a comedy series.
Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell, who play husband and wife on the series, won best supporting actor honors for a comedy series.
"Oh, my God, I don't know what I'm going to talk about in therapy next week," said a shocked-looking Bowen. "I won something."
Burrell spoke of his own father in accepting his best supporting actor award.
"I actually got kind of a late start in acting. My dad actually passed away before he ever saw me perform and I can't help but wonder what he would think about all this ... going to work in full makeup," Burrell said.
Christine Hendricks of "Mad Men" and Julia Stiles of "Dexter" were among those bringing glamor to the ceremony.
"She looks awesome, as always," said fan Jessica Steiner, 26, of Hendricks, who was wearing a rhinestone-encrusted gown with a plunging neckline.
"Modern Family" nominee Sofia Vergara wore an ultra-glam, one-shouldered peach goddess gown and chandelier earrings. Gwyneth Paltrow stood by her, in a sleek black gown with cut-outs.
"Gwyneth is classy, and Sofia is sexy," said fan Vanessa Baeza, 27. "But I think Sofia looks better. Her dress is more flattering."
Steve Carell of "The Office" made his last Emmy stand for his fifth and final season as clueless manager Michael Scott but lost again.
A new category, which combines the previously separate best miniseries and made-for-TV movie nominees, included the miniseries "Mildred Pierce," with Kate Winslet nominated in the role of an embattled mother, and the movie "Too Big to Fail," about the U.S. fiscal crisis in 2008.
Film star Winslet, an Oscar winner, captured the trophy for lead actress, while her co-star Guy Pearce won the award for best supporting actor.
Barry Pepper, who played Robert F. Kennedy in the controversial miniseries "The Kennedys," won the best supporting actor award. Maggie Smith won supporting actress honors for the miniseries "Downton Abbey," which also was named best in its category.
In the reality-competition category, perennial winner "The Amazing Race" returned to triumph Sunday after losing last year to "Top Chef." "American Idol" lost its ninth shot at winning, this time for a season in which it successfully navigated the loss of key judge Simon Cowell.
HBO came into the night with a leading 15 awards earned at the Sept. 10 creative arts awards, followed by PBS with 10, Fox with nine, CBS with seven and NBC with five.
After hitting an all-time viewership low of 12.3 million in 2008, the Emmys rebounded somewhat in the last two years and drew a 2010 audience of 13.47 million, compared to 26.7 million for this year's Grammys and nearly 38 million for the Oscars.
AP Entertainment writers Sandy Cohen, David Bauder, Anthony McCartney and Solvej Schou contributed to this report.