LOS ANGELES • It was inevitable that a streaming service would win an Emmy for best drama at some point. But no one expected Hulu to get there first.
Hulu's dystopian adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale won television's most prestigious prize on Sunday night, even though the streaming service has a smaller programming budget than its competitors, Netflix and Amazon.
The show, based on Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name, won four other prizes, including a first best actress Emmy for Elisabeth Moss, formerly of Mad Men (2007-2015).
The book depicts a world in which fertility rates have fallen and women are subjugated. The few fertile women are captured and forced to help wealthy families procreate. Many viewers and critics have drawn parallels to the current state of politics and the ascension of right-wing politicians across the West.
The success of Handmaid's came during a decidedly political ceremony.
Saturday Night Live (SNL) also stormed the Emmys, winning the best variety sketch category for the first time in more than two decades.
Outstanding drama series
The Handmaid's Tale Comedy series Veep
Lead actor, drama
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Lead actress, drama
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale
Lead actor, comedy
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Lead actress, comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Supporting actor, drama
John Lithgow, The Crown
Supporting actress, drama
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale
Supporting actor, comedy
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Supporting actress, comedy
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Big Little Lies
Lead actor, limited series or movie
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Lead actress, limited series or movie
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Black Mirror episode San Junipero
Reality competition programme
Variety talk series
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Variety sketch series
Saturday Night Live
Accepting that Emmy, the longtime executive producer of SNL, Mr Lorne Michaels, said he thought the show would never have a season as "crazy, as unpredictable, as frightening, as exhausting or as exhilarating" as the show's first in the mid- 1970s.
"Turns out I was wrong," he said.
The show's feature players swept the supporting comedy acting awards, with wins for Alec Baldwin, for his portrayal of United States President Donald Trump; and Kate McKinnon, who played presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions (among other characters).
Baldwin quipped: "I should just say, at long last Mr President, here's your Emmy."
Mr Trump was at the top of everyone's mind all night.
From the Emmys stage, he was invoked again and again and it was usually charged. "I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list," actor-director Donald Glover said as he accepted one of his two awards (best lead actor in a comedy series and best directing in a comedy series) for the FX comedy Atlanta.
In his opening monologue, host Stephen Colbert declared Mr Trump the biggest story of the year in TV, then introduced a surprise guest, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who walked onstage pushing a podium in a severely self-deprecatory homage to Melissa McCarthy's impersonation of him on SNL.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus made history. With her sixth consecutive win for best actress in a comedy as Selina Meyer in Veep, she tied for Cloris Leachman's record for eight prime-time acting Emmys. She also set the record for the number of wins by an actor playing one character, breaking a tie with Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown) and Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show).
Louis-Dreyfus declared her character (who has gone from vice-president to president to ex-president over the last six seasons) as the "role of a lifetime and an adventure of utter joy". She added: "We did have a whole storyline about impeachment, but we abandoned it because we were worried that someone else might get to that first."
Veep also won best comedy for the third year in a row.
HBO's soapy and glossy Big Little Lies won best variety series, beating its main rival, FX's period drama Feud, about the Hollywood rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.
Amid some intense competition, Nicole Kidman won her first Emmy for best actress in a limited series for her portrayal of an abused wife in Big Little Lies. Four Oscar winners were nominated in the category, including Kidman, Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies), Susan Sarandon (Feud) and Jessica Lange (Feud). "It's been an incredible year for women in television," said Witherspoon, an executive producer of Big Little Lies.
Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgard won in supporting acting categories to round out a dominant showing from Big Little Lies.
Riz Ahmed won best actor in a limited series or movie for his breakout role in HBO's The Night Of. And Netflix won best TV movie for Black Mirror.
The night's big winner among networks was a traditional powerhouse, premium-cable channel HBO, even in a year without Game Of Thrones. It took home the most Emmys for the 16th straight year, winning 29, compared with Netflix's 20.
Its triumph capped a year when networks took Emmys campaigning to a new level, spending millions to market shows before nominations were handed out.
There was no player more ostentatious than Netflix. The streaming service opened up its 2,230 sq m event space this spring, holding nearly daily parties to put potential Emmy voters in front of talent, free dinners and an open bar.
Nevertheless, Netflix once again fell short of winning best drama, despite the fact that its shows made up nearly half of the nominations in the category.