By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While upstart streaming service Netflix Inc burst into the Emmy party this year, it was cable networks with the most to celebrate on Sunday night as HBO dominated and AMC grabbed the prestigious best drama prize for "Breaking Bad."
Premium cable channel HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc, took home the most primetime Emmy trophies, 27 in total, for series including "Veep," "The Newsroom," and "Boardwalk Empire," plus Liberace movie "Behind the Candelabra." Broadcast network ABC's "Modern Family" won best comedy.
Netflix, which made history with the first Emmy nominations in major categories for a TV series delivered online, walked away almost empty-handed from Sunday's televised awards. The video streaming service landed one honor on Sunday, going to David Fincher for drama series directing for "House of Cards."
The political thriller from Netflix, released all at once in February, lost the best drama trophy to "Breaking Bad," an AMC series starring Bryan Cranston as a meth-dealing high school teacher. Anna Gunn won best supporting actress for her role on the show.
Netflix may have helped boost momentum for "Breaking Bad." Past seasons of the show are available on the streaming service, giving audiences a chance to binge on older episodes to catch up. "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan credited Netflix for helping to build his show's audience. "I think Netflix kept us on the air," he said backstage.
AMC, owned by AMC Networks Inc, also 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 as Emmy voters cast 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 data based on live and same-day viewership.
Emmy nods bring prestige and can boost viewer interest in shows, which, for most networks, helps attract more advertisers. For pay-cable channels like HBO and Showtime, Emmy recognition can drive higher subscription fees.
Sunday's awards showed cable networks are thriving creatively even as the TV landscape shifts and competition intensifies. In addition to Netflix, other streaming video services including Amazon.com Inc and Hulu are investing in original series and signing up A-list stars.
HBO's awards included a best comedy actress award for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best actor in a miniseries for Michael Douglas as Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra," and Jeff Daniels of "The Newsroom" for best actor in a drama.
Premium cable network Showtime, owned by CBS Corp, earned seven awards, including best actress for Claire Danes in "Homeland."
"It just seems like there's a real swing in the cable world," said Bobby Cannavale, winner of the best supporting actor award for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."
"(Movie) studios don't make dramas, so the best place to do drama is you go to HBO or Showtime, or you go to AMC or FX, and I think that was sort of reflected today."
For the second year in a row, broadcast networks were shut out of the best drama category.
But broadcaster ABC won best comedy for "Modern Family," one of four awards for the Walt Disney-owned network. CBS finished second among all networks with 16 trophies, including best comedy actor for Jim Parsons on "The Big Bang Theory."
Netflix won a total of three Emmys out of 14 nominations, including two creative awards handed out a week ago. While it didn't win top series or acting awards, the streaming service with 37 million global subscribers generated plenty of buzz for its original "House of Cards" series and proved that online shows can compete alongside the highest-quality TV dramas.
"I did not see this coming," surprised "Breaking Bad" creator Gilligan said when he accepted the show's drama series award on stage. The first competitor that came to mind? "I thought this was going to be 'House of Cards!" he said.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Stacey Joyce)