Los Angeles (US): Television's top stars gathered for the first time in two years on Sunday at the Emmy Awards, where "The Crown" took four awards in the first hour and is tipped to finally win the small screen's biggest prize for Netflix.
The critically adored British royals saga will battle for the best drama prize with "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian" at a ceremony held in a tent at an outdoor Los Angeles venue with a limited live audience due to ongoing Covid-19 concerns.
Leading streamer Netflix has utterly transformed the TV landscape since creating its first original show in 2012, but surprisingly has never won a top series prize at television's equivalent of the Oscars -- best drama, best comedy, or best limited series.
"'The Crown' does feel like it finally has come to the moment where it's going to have its moment," Variety awards editor Clayton Davis told AFP. "It's going to be the first big series win for Netflix."
Indeed, the show captured both prizes for actors in supporting roles, including one for Gillian Anderson for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. It also took awards for best writing and directing.
As well as "The Crown" -- which in its fourth season depicts the ill-fated marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana -- the streaming giant is banking on the wildly popular "The Queen's Gambit."
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as a gifted but troubled chess prodigy, that show sent chessboard sales skyrocketing worldwide, and is the favorite to win top honors in the fiercely competitive limited series section -- for shows ending after one season.
But Apple TV+ global smash hit "Ted Lasso" claimed the night's first two awards in comedy for supporting actress Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein.
The show about an out-of-his-depth American football coach handed control of an English soccer team is expected to score across the comedy categories, including for star Jason Sudeikis.
Last year's ceremony -- held before coronavirus vaccines were available -- was a mainly virtual affair.
This time a strict guest list of 500-odd nominees gathered under strict pandemic precautions including proof of inoculation, with producers promising a "fun, ritzy party" for those who clear security.
The show opened with rappers LL Cool J and Lil Dicky and actress Rita Wilson leading the celebrities in a singalong of late rapper Biz Markie's "Just A Friend," riffing on the year's nominated television shows.
But following the musical number, actor Seth Rogen nodded to the circumstances, joking that "there are way too many of us in this little room."
"Why is there a roof? It's more important that we have three chandeliers than that we make sure we don't kill Eugene Levy tonight," he added.
In a change to the usual running order, the increasingly prestigious best limited series award will end Sunday's ceremony.
Quirky sitcom-inspired Marvel superhero show "WandaVision" -- up for the prize in that category -- on Disney+ has exceeded all critical expectations.
But it lost out on the limited series supporting actress award to Julianne Nicholson in "Mare of Easttown." The small-town detective drama starring Kate Winslet also earned supporting actor honors for Evan Peters.
The category also features "The Queen's Gambit," British break-out series "I May Destroy You," which examines the aftermath of a rape, and Barry Jenkins' slavery adaptation "The Underground Railroad."
If anyone can ruin Netflix's party in the big final prizes, it may be Disney+, the new kid on the TV streaming block in just its second year, bringing beloved big-screen characters from "Star Wars" and Marvel films to the Emmys party.
Baby Yoda and a digitally de-aged Luke Skywalker helped "The Mandalorian" jointly top the overall nominations count alongside rival drama "The Crown."
An outside bet for best drama is "Pose" -- Billy Porter's LGBTQ-focused show exploring New York's 1980s underground ballroom culture has mounted a dazzling Emmys campaign for its final season.
Porter became the first openly gay black man to win the best drama actor prize two years ago, and co-star Mj Rodriguez could now make history as the first transgender winner in the lead actress category.
"I got into this business in the 80s -- this was not possible. I was not possible. I, Billy Porter, was illegal," Porter told presenters on the pre-show red carpet.
"So my goal is to remember how far we've come and... continue to move forward."