For the fourth consecutive year, the White House drama "The West Wing" claimed the best drama award — whacking what seemed to be yet another groundswell for the mob series "The Sopranos" after stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco each claimed their third career Emmys.
It was Gandolfini's third consecutive win, and Falco's second. She also won previously in 1999.
Other repeaters: Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett of CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond."
For a third straight year, Roberts collected a supporting comedy actress trophy for playing nagging mother Marie Barone, while Garrett received his second consecutive supporting comedy actor honor for his work as her hangdog son Robert.
Roberts said her streak of victories shows that aging stars can still do great work. "The fact that I'm 72 years old and that I'm still kicking and that I'm doing the kind of work I'm doing, I'm still challenged, is great hope for everybody in the business," she said backstage.
Meanwhile, "Everybody Loves Raymond" received its first-ever award for best comedy series. Ray Romano, who lost in the lead comedy actor class, said he was happy for the crew's sake that the show won overall.
"I'm very happy with the outcome tonight," he said backstage. "I didn't need to win for actor, and I wanted to win for show."
Among the other first-time winners was "Will & Grace" star Debra Messing for lead comedy actress and Tony Shalhoub of "Monk" for lead comedy actor.
"When you're a little girl and you have dreams of being an actress, you just hope you'll get the opportunity to do what you love and be able to pay your bills. That's success as an actor. This is otherworldly," said Messing, who was nominated but passed over for the role three times.
While "The Sopranos" claimed four honors, counting its wins for best drama writing and supporting drama actor Joe Pantoliano, "The West Wing" had only two — including best drama director.
However, cable channel HBO's crime saga was again robbed of the top award by NBC's fictional Washington politicians. TV academy voters have never crowned a cable series as best drama.
"I think it's probably the subject matter turns some people off and there's not satisfying endings to things," said Gandolfini backstage.
He said he was grateful to be honored — again — but felt the cast and crew of "The Sopranos" were slighted by being denied the top drama prize.
"It's bittersweet," he said. "My work has been acknowledged. It's time for everyone else's work to be acknowledged."
The ceremony was both celebratory and melancholy, with homage paid to a number of performers and industry figures who died this year including Bob Hope, John Ritter, Gregory Hines and Fred Rogers.
Bill Cosby accepted the second Bob Hope Humanitarian Award with a self-effacing speech in which he thanked his wife, Camille, for 40 years of unconditional love and recalled fondly beloved children's entertainer Rogers.
TNT's "Door to Door," based on the true story of Bill Porter, a man who became a salesman despite being ill with cerebral palsy, won four awards, including best made-for-TV movie. William H. Macy, who portrayed Porter, won best actor in a miniseries. The movie also won writing and directing awards.
In other awards, Tyne Daly was honored for her supporting role in the CBS drama series, "Judging Amy," while CBS' "The Amazing Race" won the Emmy in the reality competition category, beating more popular shows "American Idol" and "Survivor."
Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, which received plaudits for poking fun at war coverage, won for the first time as best variety show, breaking a five-year winning streak for David Letterman. "The Daily Show" was also honored for its writing.
Including creative arts categories presented earlier this month, HBO won a leading 18 Emmys, followed by CBS with 16, NBC with 15 and ABC with nine.