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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The low-rated shows "30 Rock" and "Mad Men" shared the spotlight at the Emmy Awards for a second year on Sunday, but most of their stars were snubbed as the acting awards went to repeat winners or surprise choices.
Tina Fey, the creator and star of NBC's "30 Rock," failed to defend her best comic actress title. She lost to Australia's Toni Collette, who plays a woman with multiple personalities in Showtime's "United States of Tara."
Fey's co-star, Alec Baldwin, was the only one of 13 nominees from either "30 Rock" or "Mad Men" to win an acting prize, in his case for playing a bumbling network TV boss.
Still, "30 Rock" was named best comedy for a third year, and "Mad Men" best drama for a second. Both prizes were announced at the end of the three-hour ceremony.
"Phew! That was a nail-biter," said Fey, accepting the big prize for "30 Rock," which won just five of the leading 22 Emmys for which the cult favorite had been nominated.
"Mad Men," whose audience is about 2 million on the niche cable channel AMC, won just three of the 16 Emmys for which it had been nominated. Last year, the period saga made history by becoming the first series from a cable network other than HBO to win the Emmy for best drama.
"I may be the only person in the room with complete creative freedom. That's why the show is so good," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, who shared the Emmy with Kater Gordon for best drama writing.
Glenn Close repeated her win for best dramatic actress for her role as a ruthless lawyer in "Damages" on the FX cable channel. Accepting her award, Close called it "the character of my lifetime."
Bryan Cranston, who plays a chemistry teacher who turns to drug dealing to pay for his medical bills in "Breaking Bad" on AMC, was also a repeat as best actor in a drama.
Cranston told reporters backstage that the "Breaking Bad" plot was "probably the worst idea for a TV show ever. But they decided to make it anyway and I'm grateful that they did."
Despite expanding the number of nominees this year to acknowledge the range of shows on more than 120 network and cable channels in the United States, upstarts like Fox's irreverent cartoon series "Family Guy" and HBO's polygamy drama "Big Love" went home empty-handed.
But Cranston said the diversity of shows meant U.S. television was in "another golden age," while Close told reporters that cable TV gave writers a creative freedom lacking on formulaic network shows.
Host Neil Patrick Harris, star of the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," kicked off the live telecast with a comic song and dance routine called "Put down the Remote" that urged viewers to resist the urge to switch channels or go online.
Last year's Emmy telecast attracted the smallest audience in the awards show's history, with just 12.2 million viewers.
In a bow to the power of the Internet, the Academy on Sunday asked viewers to vote online during the telecast for the "breakthrough moment of the year." The award was won for a scene from the vampire series "True Blood" on HBO.
In the reality competition show category, "Amazing Race," won for a seventh straight year, beating rivals "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars," "Top Chef" and "Project Runway."
Kristin Chenoweth won best supporting comic actress for "Pushing Daisies," a show canceled earlier this year by ABC.
"I'm unemployed now, so I'd like to be on 'Mad Men,' Chenoweth joked, adding "Thank you so much to the Academy for recognizing a show that's no longer on the air."
Cherry Jones, who plays a U.S. president on the popular Fox show "24," won best supporting actress in a drama while Michael Emerson won for his supporting role in the ABC drama "Lost."
HBO's "Grey Gardens" -- about the eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy -- won six Emmys, including best TV movie. But the BBC production of Charles Dickens tale "Little Dorritt," aired on PBS, did better with seven Emmys, including best miniseries.
HBO is a unit of Time Warner Inc. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co; NBC is a division of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric Co; Fox and FX are part of News Corp. Showtime and CBS are part of CBS Corp; AMC is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp.
Editing by Dean Goodman and Eric Beech