"To our fans, we are so grateful, we are so thrilled that families are sitting down together to watch a television show, and we're so happy that you have let us into your families," said Steven Levitan, "Modern Family" executive producer.
The best comedy series award was the first for the freshman sitcom, which also captured an acting award for Eric Stonestreet and a best writing trophy.
"Mad Men" earned its third consecutive best drama series trophy. Series creator Matthew Weiner seemed to take the night in stride.
"I knew one day I would run somewhere and win a trophy," Weiner joked earlier in the ceremony when he dashed to the stage to claim the Emmy for best drama series writing with Erin Levy.
"Glee," the musical-comedy that started the night as the most-nominated series, earned an acting trophy for Jane Lynch and a directing award for creator Ryan Murphy.
Bryan Cranston's portrayal of a meth dealer in "Breaking Bad" and Kyra Sedgwick's role as a brassy deputy police chief in "The Closer" earned the pair top drama series acting awards.
Cranston's honor was his third trophy for playing a high school math teacher gone wrong, while his co-star, Aaron Paul, earned his first award as best supporting actor for playing his partner-in-crime.
"During the time it took me to walk up here, I venture there were 200 text messages to the other nominees saying, `You were robbed.' I cannot argue with that," Cranston said.
Archie Panjabi of "The Good Wife" was honored as best supporting actress in a drama for her part as a law-firm's in-house private investigator, as Emmy voters spread the riches widely among veterans and fresh faces.
Edie Falco of "Nurse Jackie" and Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" were honored for their comedy series lead roles. Falco's trophy for playing a tough but troubled nurse came after her hallmark turn as a mob boss' wife in "The Sopranos," for which she won three best drama actress Emmys.
"Oh, this is the most ridiculous thing that has ever, ever happened in the history of this lovely awards show. I'm not funny!" Falco said.
Parsons won for his portrayal of a scientist as nerdy as he is brilliant. He ended fellow nominee Alec Baldwin's two-year winning streak for "30 Rock" and beat out other heavyweights including Tony Shalhoub, nominated for the final season of "Monk" and a three-time winner, and Steve Carell of "The Office."
"Now I know how much I didn't think this was going to happen. Some of you apparently voted for me. That was very sweet," Parsons told the theater audience.
Stonestreet of "Modern Family" and Lynch of "Glee" were honored for their comedy-series supporting roles.
"All I wanted to be was a clown in the circus when I was a kid growing up," said Stonestreet, who plays a boisterous gay dad and partner. He thanked his parents for their support and promised to send his trophy home with them.
Lynch also thanked her folks along with her wife, Lara Embry. The pair married in Massachusetts in May.
"This is outlandish. ... I want to thank my lord and creator, Ryan Murphy, for creating his role," Lynch said, paying tribute to the "Glee" executive producer.
"Top Chef" won best reality series, ending the seven-year winning streak of "The Amazing Race."
Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" won its eighth consecutive Emmy Award for best variety, music or comedy series. The victory kept Conan O'Brien from claiming an Emmy for his short-lived stint as "Tonight" host.
George Clooney accepted the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award from his former "ER" co-star, Julianna Margulies, who lauded his fundraising efforts for victims of this year's earthquake in Haiti, the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Clooney, recalling evenings spent with Bob and Dolores Hope at the home of his aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney, said he was inspired by the late comedian and his wife, now 101.
"If you look at everything they accomplished in their lives ... They're the best version of the term `celebrity,"' Clooney said.
Jewel sang her song "Hole in My Heart" during a memorial tribute to prominent TV figures, including Robert Culp, Soupy Sales, Dixie Carter, Gary Coleman, John Forsythe and "Roots" producer David L. Wolper.
"Temple Grandin," based on the life of the gifted, autistic animal sciences expert, was honored as best TV movie and earned Emmys for its star, Claire Danes, and supporting acting trophies for Julia Ormond and David Strathairn. The film's director, Mick Jackson, also was honored.
Al Pacino was honored as best lead actor in a miniseries or movie for "You Don't Know Jack," about euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was in the audience and stood, smiling, at Pacino's request. The controversial physician received scattered applause.
Host Jimmy Fallon opened the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards on a musical note, performing a song-and-dance number with the cast of "Glee" and a wildly mismatched group of celebrities including Betty White, Jon Hamm, Kate Gosselin and Randy Jackson.
Much of the group ended up on the Nokia Theatre stage to kick off the awards with a high-energy version of "Born to Run," with Fallon on guitar.
"Tonight we're going to celebrate your work," Fallon told the audience. "So let's have some fun tonight."
Last year's host, Neil Patrick Harris, was a presenter Sunday and took the time to rib Fallon.
"I want to thank the (TV) academy for allowing a gay man to host the Emmys two years in a row. Congratulations, Jimmy, you're doing a good job," Harris said, smiling.
The public had a hand in writing some of Fallon's material through Twitter for the ceremony, which aired live on the West Coat for the first time in three decades.
HBO came into the ceremony as the kingpin after claiming 17 awards at the Aug. 21 creative arts Emmys, followed by ABC with 15 and Fox with nine. CBS, NBC and PBS each claimed seven.
On Sunday, HBO again was on top with eight trophies. AMC received four, ABC and CBS had three and Fox and Showtime had two. NBC, Comedy Central, Bravo and TNT earned one award each. "The Pacific," the World War II drama produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, received the best miniseries award in a category it shared with one other nominee, "Return to Cranford."
"The Pacific" was the was the top nominee with 24 bids and captured a leading seven creative arts awards, which recognize technical and other achievements.
Ratings for the awards have increased importance: The TV academy's contract is up for renewal with the four major networks that had been airing the show in rotation for eight years, and the academy hopes last year's 8 percent audience increase is a trend after an all-time low in 2008.
The show's live nationwide broadcast and scheduling could be factors. The Emmys typically have aired immediately before TV's mid-September kickoff, but NBC pushed up the awards telecast to avoid a conflict with its Sunday night National Football League games that begin Sept. 12.
But fewer people tend to watch summertime TV, and the 5 p.m. PDT pre-primetime slot for the Emmys on the West Coast also tends to draw a smaller audience.