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'Breaking Bad' Wins Top Emmy Award

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Vince Gilligan and the cast and crew of 'Breaking Bad' accept the award for outstanding drama series on Sunday Sept. 22, 2013.

Vince Gilligan and the cast and crew of 'Breaking Bad' accept the award for outstanding drama series on Sunday Sept. 22, 2013.

U.S. television's top honor has been awarded to a show about a schoolteacher who becomes a brutal drug kingpin.

The Primetime Emmy Awards, aired late Sunday in Los Angeles, honored the cult crime show Breaking Bad as the best drama series for the first time. The award comes during the cable show's fifth and final season.

Best Comedy honors went to ABC's Modern Family for the fourth straight year.

In what was considered a surprise, Jeff Daniels won the Emmy for best actor in a drama for his portrayal of a TV anchorman in the cable show The Newsroom. The star of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, was considered the favorite to win the award for a fourth time.

Best drama actress honors went to Claire Danes for the second straight year for her role as a bipolar CIA agent in cable TV's terrorism drama, Homeland.

Top comedy acting honors went to Jim Parsons for The Big Bang Theory, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep.

Netflix, which made history with the first Emmy nominations in major categories for a TV series delivered online, walked away almost empty-handed; the video streaming service landed just one honor as David Fincher won the Emmy for best drama series directing for House of Cards.

Perhaps to the detriment of its own show's Emmy chances, Netflix may have helped boost momentum for Breaking Bad. As past seasons of the show are available on the streaming service, audiences are able to binge on older episodes and get caught up. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan credited Netflix for helping to build his show's audience. “I think Netflix kept us on the air,” he said backstage.

AMC also split the final season of Breaking Bad into two, which helped it enjoy a surge in ratings and critical and social media buzz that was perfectly timed to peak as Emmy voters cast their ballots.

The first six episodes of the eight-episode ending to Walter White's saga, released weekly starting in August, have averaged 5.2 million viewers, more than double last year's audience, according to AMC data based on live and same-day viewership.

Sunday's awards showed cable networks are thriving creatively even as the TV landscape shifts and competition intensifies. In addition to Netflix, other streaming video services including Amazon and Hulu are investing in original series and signing up A-list stars.

Netflix won a total of three Emmys out of 14 nominations, including two creative awards handed out a week ago. While it didn't win top series or acting awards, the streaming service with 37 million global subscribers generated plenty of buzz for its original House of Cards series and proved that online shows can compete alongside the highest-quality TV dramas.

“I did not see this coming,” surprised Breaking Bad creator Gilligan said when he accepted the show's drama series award on stage. The first competitor that came to mind? “I thought this was going to be House of Cards!” he said.

Some information for this report contributed by Reuters.