Just when it seemed that the 64th Emmy Awards were going to be every bit as routine as Jon Stewart suggested when he was bleeped while saying that space aliens would one day find out "just how predictable these [bleep]ing awards are," Emmy voters made Showtime's first-year drama "Homeland" one of the night's big winners.
The Outstanding Drama Series award didn't come as a complete surprise, given that the show had already won Emmys for lead actors Claire Danes and Damian Lewis and for its writing.
But it threw a monkey wrench into what could have been an historic night for "Mad Men," which had won the award for four consecutive years, and which would have set a new record for drama series had it won again.
Also read: Emmys 2012: The Complete List of Winners
Instead, "Mad Men" suffered its first loss in the category -- and not to the returning-to-the-air "Breaking Bad" or the tony British import "Downton Abbey," which were expected to put up a fight, but to "24" vets Alex Gansa's and Howard Gordon's thriller about a CIA officer and a former POW.
If the night was triumphant for "Homeland," it was a disaster for "Mad Men," the night's biggest loser. That show went into last week's Creative Arts Emmys tied with "American Horror Story" in leading all shows with 17 nominations. It was shut out at that show and at the Primetime Emmys, making it a miserable 0-for-17.
No other show has ever received so many nominations and gone home empty-handed -- meaning what while "Mad Men" could have made history with a record fifth drama-series win, instead it made history with a record shutout.
"American Horror Story," meanwhile, was a marginally better 2-for-17, winning one Emmy last week for hairstyling and one on Sunday for supporting actress Jessica Lange.
"Mad Men" will have other chances to break the drama-series tie it currently holds with "Hill Street Blues" and "The West Wing."
The win for "Homeland" was Showtime's first in the category, and the biggest surprise on a night that otherwise saw a number of returning folks in the Emmy winners circle. "Modern Family" won its third consecutive award for Outstanding Comedy Series, "The Daily Show" won for the 10th straight time as Outstanding Variety Series, and "The Amazing Race" was named Outstanding Reality-Competition Program for the ninth time in 10 years.
Another lesson of the Emmys show: Louis C.K. is apparently the best writer on television, with the adventurous comic losing in the series and lead-actor categories but taking home two of the night's four writing awards.
Other shows that went unrewarded included "Game of Thrones," which led last week's Creative Arts Emmys winners with six; "Girls," Lena Dunham's critics-favorite series on HBO; and the acclaimed BBC/PBS series "Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia."
Bryan Cranston, who had won three consecutive drama-actor awards before being forced to sit out last year's show because of the "Breaking Bad" airing schedule, didn't get a fourth victory, though his co-star Aaron Paul did win for the second time.
Also read: Scenes From the Emmys 2012 Red Carpet
If "Homeland" dominated the drama categories, Emmy voters clearly think that television comedy begins and ends with "Modern Family." Not only did the series get its own elaborate video package early in the show, but it won in four of the seven comedy categories, including Outstanding Comedy Series.
In addition to winning the series award for three years in a row, the ABC show has dominated the comedy supporting categories for the past three years, with five nominations and one win in 2010 and six noms and two wins in 2011 and now 2012.
Both Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet became repeat winners, leaving Sofia Vergara, Ed O'Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the show's only Emmy-less cast members.
In non-"Modern Family" comedy awards, Jon Cryer seemed as surprised as most Emmy-watchers to find him winning the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series over the likes of Jim Parsons in "The Big Bang Theory," Louis C.K. in "Louie" and Don Cheadle in "House of Lies."
But his win completed a post-Charlie Sheen double-play for the series, which last week saw guest actress Kathy Bates win an Emmy for playing the ghost of the departed's Sheen's deceased character.
Basic cable and pay cable, meanwhile, didn't cede the comedy categories entirely to the broadcast networks, with HBO's "Veep" winning for lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and FX's "Louie" winning for Louis C.K.'s writing.
The win was one of two that Louis C.K. won for writing, the other being his Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special win for "Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre."
In the movie/miniseries categories, HBO's political drama-comedy "Game Change" was dominant, winning for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, for lead actress Julianne Moore, director Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong.
Voters spread the wealth in the other movie/mini categories, with History's surprise hit "Hatfields & McCoys" taking the two male acting awards for lead Kevin Costner and supporting actor Tom Berenger. Jessica Lange's supporting actress victory was the only one for "American Horror Story," which was given the option of competing as either a drama series or a miniseries, and opted for the presumably less competitive latter field.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects trooped to the stage of the Nokia Theatre in other categories. "We were told we get a free sandwich after 10," said Jon Stewart in accepting the 10th consecutive award for his show.
Still, once in a while Emmy voters opted not to follow old habits – a point that was noted by "Dancing With the Stars" host Tom Bergeron, who won the award for reality host.
"I want to thank Jeff Probst for not being nominated," he said of the "Survivor" host who had won the award the first four times it was given out. "That helped."