"I got my start in television," Spielberg said Monday at the gala awards ceremony in Manhattan, where he received this year's International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Founders Award. "I got my first break when I ... was 21 years old directing 'Night Gallery,' so I owe a lot to television."
Audience members watched a video tribute that included clips from Spielberg's TV projects, such as the medical drama "ER," the animated series "Animaniacs," and the World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers."
British television shows swept most of the top honors at the ceremony, which honors excellence in television programming produced outside the U.S.
The award for best drama series went to the time-shifting police saga "Life on Mars," while the best comedy title went to "Little Britain," a satirical look at contemporary life in the United Kingdom.
Presenters included CBS news anchor Katie Couric and CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Actors Susan Sarandon, Rosie Perez and Lorenzo Lamas also handed out awards.
In his acceptance speech for the evening's final honor, Spielberg — who is famed for directing such films as "Jaws," "E.T." and "Schindler's List" — urged those present to consider the impact of their work on audiences worldwide.
"We certainly need to be responsible and careful about what we put into that box, because what comes out the other end truly has changed the world and will continue to change the world, for better or worse," he said. "I'm happy to think it is changing the world for the better."
The Emmy for non-scripted entertainment went to "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares," which features celebrated London chef Gordon Ramsay dishing out advice on how to save failing restaurants.
Maryam Hassouni, a Moroccan living in the Netherlands, won for best actress for portraying a Palestinian woman suspected of planning a terrorist attack in the Dutch TV production "Offers." Ray Winstone was named best actor for the British detective series "Vincent."
The documentary award went to "Hiroshima," a BBC co-production with partners in Japan and other countries that looks at the events leading to the first use of an atomic bomb from both the American and Japanese perspectives.
A British series, "Sugar Rush," which explores the world of a 15-year-old lesbian, won in the children and young people category.
Ronald S. Lauder, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, received the academy's Directorate Award for fostering the development of independent television broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe. Lauder, a former cosmetics executive with Estee Lauder Inc. and a noted New York art collector and museum patron, is also founder and chairman of Central European Media Enterprises, which operates stations in six countries.
The academy is the largest organization of global broadcasters with more than 500 members from nearly 70 countries and over 400 companies.