LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With a dash of charity and some posthumous help from Elvis Presley, smash hit “American Idol” clinched its first Emmy in six years on Saturday to avoid becoming the biggest loser in the history of U.S. television’s highest honors.
The amateur singing contest that ranks as America’s most watched TV series won its prize for outstanding technical direction for a $76 million benefit special in which producers created the illusion of Elvis performing a duet with Celine Dion.
The “Idol” win came during the four-hour presentation of the 59th annual Creative Arts Emmy Awards, mostly honoring achievements in categories like makeup, costumes, sound editing and art direction.
The ceremony, which will air next week on cable TV, serves as a prelude to the higher-profile Primetime Emmy Awards on September 16.
Fox, which will broadcast the Primetime Emmys, is the home network of “American Idol.” The program had amassed 22 Emmy losses, without a single win, during the course of its hugely popular but award-starved six-season run.
That put “Idol” four losses away from surpassing the sitcom “Newhart” as the show that had collected the most Emmy nominations -- 25 -- without winning. The victory for technical direction, camera work and video on a TV special spared “Idol” the distinction of setting a new Emmy-losing record.
The hit show featuring amateur singers vying for instant fame and a recording contract also earned an honorary Governors Award for its April fund-raising special, “Idol Gives Back.”
“Idol” has been nominated for two Primetime Emmys.
Emmy voters also embraced television’s more subversive side on Saturday, saluting the satirical cartoon “South Park” and a racy “Saturday Night Live” parody skit that became an Internet sensation.
“South Park,” Comedy Central cable network’s hit show about a group of rebellious, foul-mouthed children, won best animated series for an episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” that parodied both the Internet culture and war.
The long-running NBC sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” picked up two awards, including best original music and lyrics for the much-bleeped R&B parody song performed by Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg about a romantic gift involving a certain body part in a box.
And the Bravo network’s “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” won the prize for best reality program, prompting one of the more colorful speeches of the night from the star and executive producer.
“A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this. He had nothing to do with this,” Griffin said. “Suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now.”
Saturday’s ceremony honored two grand dames of stage and screen, Elaine Stritch and Leslie Caron.
Tony-winning Broadway veteran Stritch was named best guest actress in a comedy for playing Alec Baldwin’s mother on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock.” Caron, who got her big break in “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly 50 years ago, was named best guest actress in a drama for her role as an elderly rape victim in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
The HBO miniseries “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” claimed the most Emmys on Saturday with five wins, followed by the Discovery Channel series “Planet Earth” and the NBC special “Tony Bennett: An American Classic,” with four each.