LOS ANGELES — The post-Emmy champagne surely tasted sweet for the people at "Modern Family" and "Homeland," but they needed only to look around the Nokia Theatre to see how quickly popular tastes and Hollywood's most unpredictable awards show can change perceptions.
"Modern Family" continued its run as television's most honored comedy at Sunday's Emmys, winning the best comedy award for the third year in a row, a directing honor for co-creator Steve Levitan and acting trophies for Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet. They were already conscious that with such success may come an inevitable backlash.
"I'm praying that everybody doesn't get sick of us," Levitan said backstage. Maybe the Emmys' director did: music swelled and the stage lights were cut off as Levitan was in the middle of his acceptance speech for best comedy.
Across the theater was a reminder that things change: one-time Emmy darling Tina Fey sitting barely unnoticed and trophy-free as her show "30 Rock" is coming to an end. She was one of the quickest people to bolt from her seat and head for the exit when the three-hour telecast ended.
The terrorism thriller "Homeland" won critical plaudits and the best drama Emmy, as well as top acting awards for Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. The writing for "Homeland" was also recognized. Showtime's first-ever best drama honoree prevented "Mad Men" from winning its fifth straight best drama Emmy.
Once showered with honors, "Mad Men" set a record Sunday with 17 nominations and zero wins, said Tom O'Neil of the Gold Derby website, which follows awards shows.
"We didn't make our show just to undermine them," Danes noted backstage. "We're delighted and thrilled and a little startled by this. I don't think anyone expected to be recognized like this right off the bat but it feels pretty nice."
Lewis, Danes' co-star, took note of "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston, winner of three best actor Emmys who had been trying for a fourth on Sunday.
"I was quite convinced he would be walking up tonight," he said.
Along with the awards, there were a few cultural moments that lit up social media and will be water-cooler fodder as TV fans head back to work:
— Danes' odd "Mandy Patinkin, holla!" tribute to her fellow actor.
— Host Jimmy Kimmel and Tracy Morgan conspiring to start a rumor that Morgan had passed out onstage.
— Curve-accentuating dresses worn by the likes of Kat Dennings of "2 Broke Girls," Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family" and Christina Hendricks of "Mad Men."
— Jon Stewart punctuating his acceptance speech with an f-bomb, resulting in the only bleep of the evening.
Stewart's "The Daily Show" is one of the Emmy Awards' sure things. It won the award for best variety show for the 10th straight year. CBS' "The Amazing Race" won its ninth award for best reality show in 10 years.
Probably the least-predicted winner was Jon Cryer of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" as best comic actor. He's won the best supporting actor award in the past as second banana to Charlie Sheen. But with Ashton Kutcher replacing Sheen in the cast last season, Cryer moved up in class. Even he was taken aback by the win, saying he figured two-time trophy winner Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" would get it.
"Don't panic, people. Something has clearly gone terribly wrong. I'm stunned," Cryer said after the award was announced.
HBO's freshman comedy "Veep" received mixed reviews, but Emmy voters loved veteran actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won the best comedy actress award for her turn as a caustic U.S. vice president.
Julianne Moore's uncanny take on Gov. Sarah Palin in the TV movie "Game Change," about the 2008 presidential campaign, earned her best actress honors. The political film from HBO was also honored in the best miniseries-movie category.
"I feel so validated because Sarah Palin gave me a big thumbs down," Moore said, beaming.
Kevin Costner was named best actor for History's wildly popular miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys," while Tom Berenger was named best supporting actor for the project and Jessica Lange won supporting actress honors for "American Horror Story."
Standup comic Louis C.K. won the Emmy for best comedy writing for "Louie" and for the special "Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre." Said the comedian after his second win: "Thank you to audiences around the country who still go to see live comedy."
Stonestreet won his second supporting actor award in a comedy in three years for his portrayal of a gay stay-at-home dad. The category was a testament to the strength of "Modern Family" in the comedy world: he beat three other actors from the show in Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Stonestreet noted the importance of going out Sunday and celebrating with the rest of the cast.
"We know this isn't going to last forever," he said, "and it will be the old show in a couple of years.