2020 Emmys explained: ‘Watchmen,’ ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and ‘Succession’ are the biggest winners of the night

We at Gold Derby have been covering the 2020 Primetime Emmy race since this spring, so this awards season accounts for almost the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic that turned the entertainment industry upside down. The health crisis changed how we watched and thought about television. And it changed how the Emmys themselves did business, pushing them to a series of virtual ceremonies instead of the usual in-person extravaganza. But despite the pandemic there was more TV to nominate this year, not less. So what happened on Sunday night, September 20, when the last 23 awards were handed out? Scroll down for our minute-by-minute analysis of all the winners as they’re announced.

The first thing to explain about this year’s Emmys is that most of them happened before Sunday night. The Creative Arts Awards announced the vast majority of categories between September 14 and September 19 during four ceremonies that streamed online and one that aired on Saturday on FXX. Those kudos went to the best achievements in nonfiction, animation, variety, reality and short form programming, in addition to guest acting and behind-the-scenes crafts in dramas, comedies, movies and limited series.

Watchmen” and “The Mandalorian” came out of the Creative Arts Awards as the biggest winners with seven apiece. “Watchmen” was up for seven more awards on Sunday night, including Best Limited Series, which gave it a chance to set a new record as the most awarded program ever in a single year; “John Adams” (2008) is the current record-holder with 13 victories. “The Mandalorian,” meanwhile, was only nominated for Best Drama Series during Sunday night’s broadcast, so the best it could do was eight total prizes — not bad for the first ever drama from the inaugural season of the Disney+ streaming service.

There was lots more history up for grabs and more close races we’ve lost sleep over as we’ve awaited Sunday night’s results. Follow along below for our running report and explanation of all things Emmy (times listed are Eastern).

8:11pmBEST COMEDY ACTRESS: Catherine O’Hara is the first of a predicted sweep for “Schitt’s Creek.” This was her second nomination in a row for the show and her first victory. It’s her second Emmy overall after she claimed a writing award for the sketch comedy “SCTV” in 1982, which also makes this her first ever victory for acting. Since “Schitt’s Creek” won for its casting and contemporary costumes during Creative Arts, that brings the show’s total to three victories … so far.

8:23pmBEST COMEDY ACTOR: Two for two for “Schitt’s Creek” (get used to it). Eugene Levy claims the prize, which is the third of his career. His son Dan Levy is beaming with pride at the cast’s Toronto get-together because they created the show together; it’s likely Dan is going to get a couple of his own turns at the mic. Like O’Hara, Eugene Levy previously won Emmys as a writer for “SCTV” in 1982 and 1983. That makes this his third victory overall.

8:29pmBEST COMEDY WRITING: Eugene’s son Dan gets his first turn at the mic as “Happy Ending” wins for its script. This is his first of four nominations for Dan Levy tonight. He’s also up for Best Comedy Supporting Actor, Best Comedy Directing (also for “Happy Ending”) and Best Comedy Series. He’s predicted to win all of them. The academy may not be spreading the wealth so far, but Levy is, using the end of his speech to shout out the writers for HBO’s “Insecure.”

8:39pmBEST COMEDY DIRECTING: Four-for-four for “Schitt’s Creek.” Dan Levy and Andrew Cividino win for directing the finale episode “Happy Ending.” “I just touched my face and hugged you three times, so from a COVID standpoint, this is terrible,” joked Cividino. It could be worse, Andrew, you could be in the US. Levy and Cividino are the first directing duo to win this award since Anthony and Joe Russo prevailed for the “Arrested Development” pilot.

8:44pmBEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR: Yep, “Schitt’s Creek” wins again. “Okay, the internet’s about to turn on me,” says Dan Levy, who wins his third award in a row. It would be absolutely unprecedented if the show wins all seven comedy awards tonight, but there are only two left (Best Comedy Supporting Actress and Best Comedy Series), and it’s very, very possible.

8:53pmBEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS: That’s a clean sweep for “Schitt’s Creek” in the acting categories. Annie Murphy claims this prize, which makes “Schitt’s Creek” the first comedy ever to win all lead and supporting categories in a single year. The last program in any drama to do that was “Angels in America” 16 years ago. “Schitt’s” also ties “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Saturday Night Live” for the most comedy acting wins in a single year (four).

8:57pmBEST COMEDY SERIES: Who could’ve guessed it? “Schitt’s Creek” wins Best Comedy Series and makes even more history. With seven wins tonight and two wins during the Creative Arts Awards, it won nine awards this year, which sets a new record for the most wins for a comedy in a single year. Since Eugene Levy and Dan Levy are both producers of the series, they add to their Emmy hauls for the night: Eugene with two and Dan with four.

9:08pmBEST VARIETY TALK SERIES: Now that the party up in Canada has died down, onto Britain: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” wins Best Comedy Series for the fifth year in a row, though to be fair John Oliver is also an American citizen who tapes his show from an empty white void in New York City. “Last Week Tonight” has been unbeatable in series and writing categories for the last half decade, though it has a while to go before it catches the all-time record-holder, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which won 11 times over the years.

9:13pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES ACTRESS: Regina King starts what might be another Emmy sweep, this time for “Watchmen.” She wins this category for the second time, which makes her the first Black actress to win this award twice. It’s her fourth acting Emmy overall. She won Best Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress twice for “American Crime.” Then she won Best this prize for “Seven Seconds.” Since “Watchmen” won seven times during the Creative Arts Awards, the limited series has now won eight times, with more likely to come.

9:21pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES ACTOR: Mark Ruffalo wins for his role as troubled twins in the HBO limited series “I Know This Much is True.” Ruffalo already had an Emmy for producing the TV movie “The Normal Heart,” but this is his first victory for acting. Playing multiple roles is often the ticket to winning an Emmy, as evidenced by Sally Field (“Sybil”), Toni Collette (“United States of Tara”) and Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), to name a few. But this was the only Emmy nomination for “I Know This Much is True.”

9:26pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES WRITING: Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson win for penning the “Watchmen” episode “This Extraordinary Being.” It’s the second win of the night for “Watchmen,” which brings its total for the year to nine so far, tying it with “Schitt’s Creek.” Perhaps surprisingly, this is only Lindelof’s second Emmy; he hasn’t won since “Lost” claimed Best Drama Series in 2005. This is the first nomination and win for Jefferson.

9:37pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES DIRECTING: Maria Schrader wins for “Unorthodox,” quite possibly helped by three episodes of “Watchmen” splitting votes. Schrader was also helped by the fact that she was nominated for directing the entire series as opposed to an individual episode. That has happened before when the directors of “The Night Manager” (Susanne Bier), “Big Little Lies” (Jean-Marc Vallee) and “Chernobyl” (Johan Renck) won for helming whole series as opposed to individual installments.

9:40pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES SUPPORTING ACTOR: Well, vote-splitting sure didn’t hurt Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who won this award despite being up against two co-stars from “Watchmen”: Jovan Adepo and Louis Gossett Jr. Like Mark Ruffalo, Abdul-Mateen won for essentially playing two characters: Cal Abar, who turned out to be the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan in disguise. “Watchmen” has now won 10 Emmys this year, exceeding “Schitt’s Creek’s” total. It was Abdul-Mateen’s first nomination and win.

9:49pmBEST MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Uzo Aduba surprises by winning for her role as pioneering politician Shirley Chisholm in “Mrs. America” even though she, too, was nominated against two co-stars: Margo Martindale and Tracey Ullman. Though perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. This is Aduba’s third Emmy, following victories for “Orange is the New Black” in 2014 and 2015. She has only ever lost once.

9:55pmBEST LIMITED SERIES: As we predicted, “Watchmen” wins the top award, bringing it four awards for the evening and 11 awards total. It’s not quite the record 13 trophies that “John Adams” received in 2008, but it does tie “Angels in America” as one of the most awarded miniseries in Emmy history. And it’s certain that “Watchmen” will end the night as the most awarded program of the year just like it was the most nominated show with 26 bids.

10:13pmBEST COMPETITION PROGRAM: “RuPaul’s Drag Race” wins the award for the third year in a row. This category is prone to long winning streaks. “The Amazing Race” still holds the record with 10, while “The Voice” has won four times. Host RuPaul Charles wins as a producer, and earlier this week he also set a new record with his fifth straight Emmy for Best Reality Host. So his mantel is getting pretty crowded.

10:28pmBEST DRAMA ACTOR: Jeremy Strong wins for his role in “Succession” even though he was up against his dear old on-screen dad, Brian Cox. He’s one of the few actors ever to beat a co-star in this category. Indeed, it doesn’t look like vote-splitting has been a problem for any actors this year given the aforementioned victories for Abdul-Mateen and Aduba. This is the second acting Emmy for the show so far after Cherry Jones prevailed for her guest performance during the Creative Arts Awards on Saturday night.

10:36pmBEST DRAMA ACTRESS: Zendaya pulls off an upset by winning Best Drama Actress for “Euphoria.” At age 24, she’s the youngest winner in this category’s history, breaking a record that was just set last year by Jodie Comer for “Killing Eve.” The Emmys have long been biased against shows about teenagers (just ask “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), so this award was a major breakthrough, especially against more heavily favored nominees Laura Linney (“Ozark”), Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”) and Olivia Colman (“The Crown”). It’s the third victory for “Euphoria” this year.

10:39pmBEST DRAMA WRITING: Jesse Armstrong wins for penning the “Succession” episode “This is Not for Tears.” This is his second consecutive victory for the show and the fifth award for “Succession” so far this year with several more categories to go.

10:41pmBEST DRAMA DIRECTING: “Succession” wins again, but not for the episode we thought it had the best chance for. Andrij Parekh won for “Hunting” over Mark Mylod’s work on the season finale episode “This is Not for Tears” that just won for its writing. This is the first win for the show in this category and the first nomination and win for Parekh. This brings “Succession’s” total for the year so far to six.

10:48pmBEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR: Billy Crudup claims this prize for “The Morning Show,” which is the first win for the actor, the first win for the series and the first acting win for Apple TV+. It also means that two Dr. Manhattans have won Emmys tonight. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II won for playing the role in the limited series “Watchmen,” and Crudup played that character in the 2009 feature film.

10:52pmBEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Julia Garner does it again, she claims her second prize in a row for her role in “Ozark,” which makes her the only acting win for that series. And what bragging rights for a young actress to win against an elite field of women including Meryl Streep and Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”), Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”) and past champ in this category Thandie Newton (“Westworld”).

11:00pmBEST DRAMA SERIES: “Succession” takes the last award of the night, bringing its total for the year to seven. In another year that might make it the year’s most awarded show, but the dominant performances by “Schitt’s Creek” (nine wins) and “Watchmen” (11 wins) keep it in third place, tied with “The Mandalorian” which won seven times during the Creative Arts Awards. Executive producer Jesse Armstrong “un-thanked” Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, other nationalist politicians and a corrupt news media for his award.

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