LOS ANGELES -- (UPDATED) "Watchmen," a dark superhero series that tackles US racism, triumphed at the Emmys on Sunday as the stars beamed in live to an empty Los Angeles theater for Hollywood's first major COVID-era awards show.
Fellow HBO show "Succession" -- the saga of a powerful, backstabbing family -- won big in the drama categories, while offbeat Canadian hit "Schitt's Creek" performed a clean sweep of the night's comedy prizes.
With four victories in major categories, "Watchmen" amassed a total of 11 Emmys -- television's equivalent of the Oscars.
A timely blend of sociopathic superheroes and political satire based on a seminal 1980s graphic novel, the show won rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Its creators dedicated their win for best limited series to African-American victims of the 1921 Tulsa massacre.
"The only way to put the fires out is to fight them together," said showrunner Damon Lindelof.
"History is mystery -- it's broken into a million puzzle pieces. We know finding them will hurt. Sometimes we caused that hurt, maybe we even benefited from it," added Lindelof, who is white.
The series, which debuted last year, depicts white supremacists, police brutality and rows over mask-wearing -- all subjects of intensely polarized national debate as the United States gears up for November's presidential election.
"Have a voting plan," said the show's star Regina King, as she accepted her prize.
Many viewers learned about the real-life, deadly destruction of "Black Wall Street" in Oklahoma for the first time through the show's pilot.
Its 11 wins left it two short of the all-time record of 13 held by historic mini-series "John Adams."
'Succession' and 'Schitt's Creek'
Nominees and winners for the 72nd Emmys dialed in from their homes and socially distanced gatherings via video call, as Los Angeles is still under tough coronavirus-related restrictions.
They were handed trophies in a variety of ways -- deliverymen knocking on front doors, even a "decapitated hand" emerging from a mysterious box, as winner John Oliver called it.
The night spotlighted everyday heroes such as a medical worker, a teacher and even an astronaut. Some presented awards.
The creator of "Succession" -- a dark portrait of a Murdoch-esque family's wrangling for control of a dynastic media empire -- sounded one of several political notes by "un-thanking" world leaders for their handling of the pandemic.
"Un-thank you to President (Donald) Trump for his crummy and uncoordinated response. Un-thank you to Boris Johnson for the same thing in our country," said British showrunner Jesse Armstrong, accepting best drama series, the night's final prize.
The show also won for best drama writing and directing, while star Jeremy Strong bagged best actor honors.
On a banner night for HBO, former Disney child star Zendaya pulled off a surprise win for best drama actress with bleak, hard-hitting "Euphoria" -- she is the youngest woman ever to claim the award.
The show depicts high school students struggling with sex, drugs and crime -- in explicit detail.
The cast of "Schitt's Creek" gathered in Toronto for a night to remember, as they swept the "virtual" ceremony's comedy prizes.
"Our show at its core is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance. We need it now more than ever before," said supporting actor winner and co-creator Daniel Levy, who also won for directing, writing and overall comedy series.
Catherine O'Hara was given the night's first statuette for best comedy actress by a presenter in a hazmat suit. Eugene Levy, her on-screen husband, scooped best actor. Annie Murphy also won for supporting actress -- the first ever comedy acting clean sweep for a series.
"Schitt's Creek" -- about a privileged family forced to live in a rundown motel -- failed to earn a single nomination in its first four years, but it gained attention by later airing on Netflix and signed off with a heartwarming final season.
Ironically, Netflix itself landed just two prizes during the broadcast -- a disappointing night for the streaming giant.
Racism and politics were prominent themes all night, with actors and creators donning tee-shirts bearing slogans for black victims of police violence and the Tulsa massacre.
Mark Ruffalo, who won for limited series "I Know This Much Is True," spoke for many in famously liberal Hollywood by appearing to warn voters over Trump's re-election bid.
"We have a big, important moment ahead of us -- are we going to be a country of division and hatred... or are we going to be one of love, strength, and fighting for all of us?" he asked.
Another major theme was the pandemic itself, which has turned Tinseltown upside down, bringing productions to a halt even as binge-watching skyrocketed during the crisis.
Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the Emmys from a theater filled with cardboard cutouts of A-listers, quipping: "Hello and welcome to the pand-Emmys."
Around 130 nominees -- who wore gowns, tuxedos, casual wear and everything in between -- were sent cameras to hook up in venues of their choosing.
Reviews marveled at the show's lack of technical hitches, with Variety praising the "surprising triumph of producing" and Deadline calling it "an awards show for the ages."
© Agence France-Presse