Buffering the miniseries awards was a parody routine about top nominees by "Weird Al" Yankovic. Musical numbers usually look out of place at the Emmys, and this one was no different. Other scripted banter fell flat, although host Seth Meyers kept soldiering on.
CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons was crowned as best comedy series actor, giving him his fourth Emmy and putting him in company with all-time sitcom winners Carroll O'Connor, Kelsey Grammer and Michael J. Fox.
"Modern Family" also captured a best comedy supporting actor trophy for Ty Burrell. Allison Janney was honored as best supporting comedy actress for CBS' "Mom," adding to the trophy she'd already picked up as guest actress on "Masters of Sex."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who received her third consecutive best comedy actress Emmy for the political comedy "Veep," drew big laughs as she stopped to exchange faux heated kisses with Cranston, who earlier was her co-presenter and who appeared with her on "Seinfeld."
"The Colbert Report" was honored as best variety series for its farewell season, with its star departing to take over for David Letterman on CBS' "Late Show."
Meyers kicked off the ceremony by tweaking his home network, NBC, and other broadcasters for being eclipsed in the awards by cable series and online newcomers like "Orange Is the New Black."
Noting that the Emmys moved to Monday night to avoid a conflict with Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, he said that MTV doesn't really specialize in videos anymore.
"That's like network TV holding an awards show and giving all the trophies to cable and Netflix. That would be crazy," Meyers joked — but the outcome proved him wrong.
Besides "Orange Is the New Black," other shows that didn't benefit from tactical category choices included "Shameless," which moved from drama to comedy consideration, and "True Detective," with its close-ended story that smacked of a miniseries.
The ceremony's traditional "in memoriam" tribute to industry members who have died in the past year flashed images of stars including James Garner, Ruby Dee, Sid Caesar, Carmen Zapata and Elaine Stritch as singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles sang "Smile." It concluded with the tribute to Williams.
Another touching moment Monday: Director-producer Ryan Murphy dedicating the outstanding TV movie Emmy won by "The Normal Heart" to the many artists felled by the HIV virus and AIDS.
AP Entertainment Writers Anthony McCartney and Beth Harris contributed to this report.