Nellie Andreeva

For the first time in a long time, both top TV series categories, best drama and comedy ensemble, featured first-time winners, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and ABC’s Modern Family. And for the first time, a winner in one the top categories, Modern Family, was an AFTRA-affiliated show.

Last year, Julianna Margulies’ win for best actress in a drama series marked the first time in recent history that a SAG award had gone to an actor on an AFTRA-represented series, CBS’ The Good Wife. The other 5 series categories were won by SAG shows. Fast-forward to tonight when 3 out of the 6 SAG Awards for series, or 50%, went to AFTRA-designated shows. That included best actress in a drama series, in which Margulies repeated for a second consecutive year, best comedy series ensemble (Modern Family) and best actress in a comedy series (Hot in Cleveland‘s Betty White) Backstage, Margulies supported the ongoing movement to merge the two actors unions, SAG and AFTRA. “I would like us all to be one,” she said. “We’re in an industry where power comes in numbers.” Onstage, Melissa Leo, winner in the best supporting actress in a movie category for The Fighter made an emotional plea for unity. “Let’s join together,” she said in her acceptance speech. “Let’s make it a real voice. Unions made this country great because they give the voice to the working people.”

The SAG Awards producers’ choice to have Betty White and Alec Baldwin open the ceremony as first presenters proved more than serendipity as the two were big winners  tonight. “Aren’t we lucky to be in this business and still be working at our age,” White quipped to Baldwin in their intro. Luck was definitely on the duo’s side. 30 Rock star Baldwin landed a record fifth consecutive SAG Award for best actor in a comedy series. “This is ridiculous,” he said in his speech and had a point. A minute later, White outdid him by winning her first regular SAG Award in her first nomination at age 89, the oldest actor to do so. And she did it a year after she was awarded a lifetime achievement award at last year’s SAG Awards. (Those things usually happen in reverse order.) I’m not sure what is harder to believe – that White can still work full-time at this age or that she has never been nominated for a SAG Award before. (Though the SAG Awards have only been around for 17 of White’s 66 years in the business.)

Boardwalk Empire ended Mad Men‘s streak of 2 consecutive wins in the best drama ensemble category as the HBO drama is establishing itself as an awards juggernaut. And just like it did at the Golden Globes, the prohibition era extravaganza also won for best actor in a drama series, star Steve Buscemi.

In the long-form categories, Claire Danes and Al Pacino completed their awards sweep for their roles in HBO’s Temple Grandin and You Don’t Know Jack, respectively, by adding SAG Awards to their Emmys and Golden Globes.

TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.

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