L.A.’s historic Shrine Auditorium stage, decked out with TV sets of various vintages, became a shrine to the most powerful medium ever invented Sunday night. And when the glitter settled on the 54th annual Emmys, there were:
• Pleasant Surprises — Ray Romano winning at last;
• Touching moments — Steven Spielberg introducing the real-life “Band of Brothers”;
• And moments of awe — yes, Jennifer Aniston clutching an Emmy.
In what marks the Must-See show’s first victory in four tries, “Friends” was named Outstanding Comedy Series, while NBC’s Oval Office drama “The West Wing” ended up with its third straight award for Outstanding Drama Series, bettering its chief rival, HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” whose one major award (out of six trophies in all) went to director Alan Ball, despite a field-best 23 nominations.
“Wing,” meanwhile, picked up the majority of the acting awards (Allison Janney, Stockard Channing and John Spencer were winners) in addition to Outstanding Drama Series. The heavyweight awards finished off the last stretch of the long night, which by 10:35 p.m. ET even had Aniston and husband Brad Pitt, sitting in the audience, looking fatigued.
That, however, was before she got to walk up to the podium.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “Thank you. This has been the greatest nine years of my life — to work with this cast, who make me better and better each day.” She also thanked “my family and my friends, who keep me grounded, and my husband. I love you very, very much.”
Before that, the fourth time was the charm for Romano, who finally won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, for his CBS hit “Everybody Loves Raymond.” His parents were in the audience, and his father cried.
“Mom,” said Romano, clutching his Emmy, “don’t let him take it to the Elks.”
Of course, Romano’s winning meant that fellow nominees Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc will end their ninth and final season of “Friends” next May without ever taking home the gold. Meanwhile, everybody also loved “Raymond” costars Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts, who picked up awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress.
In the drama categories, Janney continued her winning streak, with the “West Wing” star being named Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — for the first time. In the past, her Emmys were for Supporting Actress. “Thanks for the promotion,” she said.
Dark-horse newcomer Michael Chiklis, of “The Shield,” took the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series, depriving Martin Sheen of “The West Wing,” Kiefer Sutherland of “24,” and Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause of “Six Feet Under” of the honor. Chiklis noted that he works for a “little network,” FX, and thanked “the critics, for finding us.”
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani presented two awards, including Outstanding Drama Series to “The West Wing.” Creator Aaron Sorkin called the win “a great compliment to all of us.”
He also joked that he would send the Emmy over to “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball, but quickly added, “Of course, we all know that isn’t going to happen.”
Other big winners Sunday night included HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” which picked up Outstanding Miniseries, and the network’s “The Gathering Storm,” which won for Made-for-TV Movie.
• For a list of the major winners, check out PEOPLE.com’s Emmys tally.
• PEOPLE.com’s complete Emmys package.