Television honored its biggest stars in Los Angeles on Monday with a gowns-and-tuxedos Emmys gala, back at full strength for the first time in the age of Covid-19.
Host Kenan Thompson opened the proceedings with a dance number set to a medley of hit TV show themes, including "Friends" and "Game of Thrones," before bringing on talk show legend Oprah Winfrey, who lauded "the most successful broadcast medium in the world: television."
There were few surprises in the first half of the show, with trophies spread around among popular dramas "Succession" and "Ozark," limited series "The White Lotus," and comedy hit "Ted Lasso," among others.
Hitmaker Lizzo, who made a serious fashion statement in a billowing red tulle dress, said her victory for "Watch Out For The Big Grrrls" in the competition program category was a win for diversity.
"When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media," she said, the emotion clear on her face.
"Someone fat like me. Black like me. Beautiful like me.
"If I could go back and tell a little Lizzo something, I'd be like, 'You're gonna see that person, but bitch, it's going to have to be you.'"
"The White Lotus," a satire on wealth and hypocrisy set in a luxury Hawaiian resort, scooped up two acting prizes as well as directing and writing honors, for a total of nine overall.
Emmy behemoth "Succession" had one in the early running, with Matthew Macfadyen recognized for best supporting actor.
But all eyes were on the drama categories and "Squid Game," the South Korean sneak hit in which misfits and criminals compete for cash in barbaric and deadly versions of schoolyard games.
The Netflix show is hoping to emulate the success of Oscar-winning South Korean movie "Parasite" with a triumph at TV's top prize gala.
It faces tough competition from previous winner "Succession," the tale of a family vying for control of a media empire -- rife with Shakespearean backstabbing -- that earned the most nominations overall at 25.
"It's pretty hard to go against that HBO juggernaut," said Pete Hammond, awards columnist for Hollywood publication Deadline.
Experts polled by awards prediction site Gold Derby have tipped "Succession" as the favorite.
"I do think ('Squid Game') is going to win best actor," noted Hammond -- an outcome that would make Lee Jung-jae the category's first winner for a non-English performance.
The South Korean series has already tasted Emmys victory, with four trophies at a pre-gala event at which many statuettes are awarded in minor categories, including one for Lee Yoo-mi for best guest actress in a drama.
Other shows contending for the night's top drama prizes include Apple TV+ dystopian workplace series "Severance," starring Adam Scott, and the final season of Netflix's much-lauded crime saga "Ozark."
Zendaya, who became the youngest-ever best actress winner two years ago for HBO's hard-hitting teen drama "Euphoria," is tipped to repeat.
Sudeikis vs Hader
Best comedy series looks like an open goal for season two of Apple TV+'s fish-out-of-water soccer coach "Ted Lasso."
In the best actor category, star Jason Sudeikis is up against Bill Hader, whose dark hitman comedy "Barry" returns from a three-year absence.
Jean Smart is heavily tipped to repeat as best comedy actress for "Hacks," in which she plays an aging Las Vegas diva forced to reinvent her dated stand-up routine.
Offering some fresh blood are the nominees in the limited series section, which honors shows capped at a single season.
Four of the five contenders chronicle real-life scandals.
"Dopesick" looks at the US opioid crisis, "The Dropout" recounts the Theranos fraud, "Pam and Tommy" recalls an infamous celebrity sex tape and "Inventing Anna" is inspired by a Russian con artist who scammed upper-crust New York.
Michael Keaton won for "Dopesick" and Amanda Seyfried took home an Emmy for her portrayal of disgraced Theranos boss Elizabeth Holmes.
Geena Davis' Institute on Gender in Media won the special Governors Award.
"Television can often directly impact how people see themselves and judge their value in the world," she said.
"We've made a great deal of progress, but still there's more work to do."
Monday's ceremony marked a return to normality, after the Covid-19 crisis forced producers to get creative with remote and socially distanced editions in 2020 and 2021.
The show at a downtown Los Angeles theater is also the first major Hollywood awards ceremony since this year's extraordinary Oscars.
Back in March, Will Smith stunned viewers by slapping Chris Rock live on stage for cracking a joke about his wife.
Emmy organizers said they didn't expect a repeat.
"I can't imagine that lightning will strike twice," Television Academy head Frank Scherma told Deadline.