Jimmy Kimmel kicks off an audience-free awards

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(CNN)The Emmy Awards went on Sunday, with Jimmy Kimmel noting at the outset that while an awards show might "seem frivolous and unnecessary" in the middle of a pandemic, "Right now, we need fun."

The winners, however, offered what came across as a collective message -- preaching unity, while urging viewers to go vote in the upcoming election, a point echoed by Regina King (a winner for "Watchmen'), Mark Ruffalo ("I Know This Much is True") and others.

Kimmel opened the show with scenes of a packed, appreciative audience, before he revealed that he was actually performing in a near-empty auditorium.

"Of course we don't have an audience. This isn't a MAGA rally. It's the Emmys," the ABC latenight host said -- the first of several jokes at President Trump's expense -- later referring to the show as "The No People's Choice Awards."

The awards themselves were a story of sweeps and near-sweeps. HBO's "Watchmen" dominated the limited-series voting -- amassing 11 awards overall, including seven claimed during earlier ceremonies in technical areas -- and the final season of "Schitt's Creek" swept the comedy categories.

That included Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy both winning, the first Emmys for the two comedy veterans since receiving awards for writing "SCTV" in the early 1980s. They were joined by Annie Murphy and Levy's son, Daniel Levy, who was recognized for writing, directing and co-starring in the Pop TV show. Including earlier technical awards, the show garnered nine Emmys overall.

HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" also won its fifth consecutive Emmy for variety talk series, with Oliver noting how lucky those programs were to be able to stay in production during the pandemic, which has shut down so many scripted programs. "I will be reporting him to ICE tomorrow," Kimmel, a fellow nominee, quipped afterward.

The 72nd annual Emmys mark the most significant award show to go on since the coronavirus pandemic ruled out the traditional everyone-together/black-tie events. Most of the other upcoming major awards, following the lead of the Oscars, have postponed their dates further into 2021.

The producers of this year's Emmy telecast came into the ceremony with a plan to go "live, live, live," recognizing that there would be potential logistical problems, and hoping for the best. That includes dispatching 130 cameras to catch the reactions of nominees and winners scattered across the globe.

The ceremony also sought to recognize frontline workers -- with several invited to introduce categories -- and announced that a donation would be made to the charity Nokidhungry.org for every Emmy victory.

Through the Creative Arts Ceremony, devoted to technical areas and programs in dozens of categories not included in the main primetime telecast, HBO and Netflix were tied with 19 awards each.

Netflix broke a record this year in terms of total nominations, with 160, thanks in part to the volume of programming that the streaming service pumps out.

Neither of 2019's big series winners, "Game of Thrones" and "Fleabag," were in contention for this year's honors, opening the door for some new blood.

It will be interesting to see if the unusual format engenders enough curiosity to prompt more people to tune in, especially with "Thrones," a huge popular hit, no longer in the mix. Presented by the Television Academy, the Emmys experienced a sharp ratings decline last year to record-low numbers airing on Fox.

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