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By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES, Sept 22 (Reuters) - "Breaking Bad" took home the top honor at Sunday's Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the best drama series prize for the first time, as AMC's gritty tale of a schoolteacher turned meth kingpin heads into the homestretch of its final season.
In the best comedy series category, ABC's "Modern Family" was a return winner as the show about unconventional families won the top award for the fourth consecutive year.
The television industry's top awards honored a mix of old and new shows, with more than a few upsets in the acting categories, and much talk about the trends transforming today's television - binge-watching, mobile viewing and online streaming.
TV streaming pioneer Netflix Inc's groundbreaking political thriller "House of Cards" took home an award for directing, but failed to score wins in best drama and best acting categories.
Premium cable veteran HBO, which lead the field with 108 of the more than 500 nominations, proved its staying power in the increasingly competitive television industry, where basic cable and Netflix have challenged its high-quality production.
Jeff Daniels, who plays a jaded anchorman in HBO's "The Newsroom," scored an upset win for the best actor in a drama, while Claire Danes clinched her second consecutive best drama actress Emmy for her role as a bipolar CIA agent in "Homeland."
Daniels beat front-runner Bryan Cranston, who was looking for this fourth best actor Emmy in his role as unlikely drug kingpin Walt White in the AMC drama "Breaking Bad," and Kevin Spacey, who made waves as a cutthroat congressman in "House of Cards."
"I didn't expect this," Daniels said. "I usually don't win anything. The last thing I won was for 'The Squid and the Whale,' best actor over 50 from the AARP. With all due respect to the AARP, this is better."
HBO also won the best miniseries/movie category with its slick Liberace program "Behind the Candelabra." Veteran actor Michael Douglas won best actor in that category for his portrayal of the pianist, besting his co-star Matt Damon, who played his young lover.
"You deserve half of this," Douglas told Damon. "Do you want the bottom or the top?"
The lead comedy acting awards were less of a surprise than the drama category.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won the best comedy actress Emmy for the second year in a row for her role as hapless U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO's "Veep."
Jim Parsons picked up his third lead comedy actor win for his role as the nerdy and neurotic Sheldon Cooper on CBS' "The Big Bang Theory."
Good timing appeared to provide a big boost for "Breaking Bad."
AMC split the final season of "Breaking Bad" in two. It enjoyed 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.
"Holy crap! I did not see this coming," "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan said as he accepted the award.