By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Veep," "Nurse Jackie" and "30 Rock" picked up the first acting and writing awards for comedy at the Primetime Emmys on Sunday, on a night in which the television industry both celebrated and mocked the latest trends of binge-watching and online streaming.
The biggest night for television kicked off with some upsets, with two supporting actor awards going to first-time Emmy winners.
Merritt Wever, who plays a quirky nurse on Showtime's dark comedy "Nurse Jackie," won best supporting actress in a comedy series and gave a novel acceptance speech. "Thank you so much. I've got to go, bye," Wever said.
Tony Hale took best supporting actor for comedy for his role as a body man for the U.S. vice president in HBO's "Veep."
Actress and comedian Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield won best writing for a comedy for NBC's "30 Rock," which ended this year.
Making light of the television fads of the day - binge-watching, viewing shows on mobile devices and online streaming - host Neil Patrick Harris opened the televised ceremony enclosed in a room trying to catch up on every episode.
"Right now, I am watching an episode of 'American Horror Story: Asylum' on my contact lens," Harris joked with the audience at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
The top comedy prize, for best series, will be announced toward the end of the broadcast. The favorite is three-time winner "Modern Family," but "Louie," featuring New York comedian Louis C.K. could surprise. "30 Rock" is competing for its final season, alongside HBO's "Girls" and "Veep" and "The Big Bang Theory" from CBS.
Vying for the most coveted award of the night, best drama series, are AMC's "Breaking Bad," the favorite to win, last year's winner "Homeland" from Showtime, HBO's medieval fantasy "Game of Thrones," British period drama "Downton Abbey" (PBS), four-time winner "Mad Men," and political thriller "House of Cards" from TV streaming company Netflix.
If "House of Cards," with nine nominations overall, wins in any of the major categories, it will be the first time a program made specifically for online streaming wins a major Emmy award. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey could take the best actor in a drama series prize for his portrayal of cut-throat congressman Frank Underwood.
"We're the new kids on the block and it's exciting, it's progressive, and I'm excited about the future," Spacey said on the red carpet. "I think for audiences it's incredible because they get a chance to decide how they want to view something and we're giving them the control."
"Breaking Bad," a gritty series about a chemistry teacher who cooks crystal meth and transforms into a ruthless drug kingpin, could win the best drama award for the first time. And Bryan Cranston, who plays the unlikely meth mogul Walter White, is looking for his fourth best-actor Emmy for that role.
Good timing and binge-watching could work in favor of "Breaking Bad."
AMC split the final season of "Breaking Bad" in two, enjoying a surge in ratings and a crescendo of critical and social media buzz perfectly timed to when Emmy voters were casting their ballots.
The first six episodes of the eight-episode ending to Walter White's saga, released weekly starting in August, averaged 5.2 million viewers, more than double last year's audience, according to AMC.
The Emmys are handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in a televised ceremony from Los Angeles.
They honor a broad swath of television production, from the pinnacle prize of best drama series to more obscure ones like best sound mixing for non-fiction programming. There are 537 separate nominations and HBO alone picked up 108 of those, more than twice its closest competitors, broadcasters CBS and NBC with 53 each.
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Stacey Joyce)