However, the Emmys weren't entirely surprise-free. Despite 16 nominations, the HBO TV movie "The Normal Heart" -- based on Larry Kramer's 1985 play about the beginnings of the AIDS crisis -- won just two Emmys. It did win in the most important of its categories, that of outstanding TV movie.
"This is for all of the hundreds of thousands of artists who have passed from HIV/AIDS since 1981," said director Ryan Murphy.
But it was "Sherlock: His Last Vow" that took home many of the genre's awards. Lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, supporting actor Martin Freeman and writer Stephen Moffat all took home trophies, with Freeman beating out four performers from "The Normal Heart."
"Fargo" won two Emmys, including an award for outstanding miniseries, and "American Horror Story: Coven" picked up two awards, for actresses Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange.
Asked backstage if she had any other goals, Lange offered an unlikely objective: "I want to win the Belmont Stakes," she said.
Williams: 'He made us laugh'
The "In Memoriam" tribute was set to the music of "Smile," sung by Sara Bareilles. It concluded with Robin Williams.
"He made us laugh -- hard -- every time you saw him," said Billy Crystal, telling stories about Williams' quick wit in a broadcast booth and at a family gathering.
"It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives," he said.
Backstage, Kathy Bates remembered Williams' good nature.
One year at the Golden Globes, in a time before cell phones were commonplace, she was waiting at a pay phone to call her mother -- and didn't have change. It was Williams who gave her a quarter. Years later, he was presenting the Oscar for supporting actress, for which Bates was nominated. She didn't win that time.
"I won this time, and this is for you," she said, getting choked up.
Louis C.K. also reflected on Williams.
"I grew up watching him. He was somebody who worked so hard at it and was explosive with energy," he said. "He was a beacon when I was a kid." The two became friendly later, with Williams telling Louis C.K. he was a fan of "Louie."
"He was a big influence on me as a person and comedically," he said.
Host Seth Meyers kept things lively with some winning skits and a brisk monologue. He opened the show with pokes at the very timing of the Emmys itself.
Noting that the awards show was on a Monday night in August -- so it didn't conflict with Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards and an NFL game on Emmy network NBC -- the host noted that could only mean one thing: It's "about to get canceled."
"Breaking Bad" never had to undergo that indignity. The show simply got better throughout its five-season run, gaining audience, gripping fans, leaving on its own terms.
"This is a wonderful icing on the cake," said creator Gilligan. "The cake itself, the substance, was getting to work with these wonderful people for six years.
"It's going to be a tough one to top, that's for sure."