By EW Staff
Updated September 23, 2013 at 05:05 AM EDT

The Emmys honor the best performances, but the Emmys telecast is all about celebrating the best speeches. Here’s how we called it:

1. Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: The night’s first winner had the most succinct speech: “Thank you so — Oh no! Thanks so much. Um. Thank you so much! Um…I gotta go. Bye,” she said. Backstage, she explained: “It’s hard to do those,” she said. “I’m scared. I’m scared. It was unexpected. I don’t know how to feel yet. I mean, I have therapy next week.”

2. Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: The nominees in the category didn’t have a bit this year, but Louis-Dreyfus did. She handed her purse to Tony Hale, who plays the vice president’s personal aide on the HBO comedy, and he followed her on stage, stood behind her dutifully, and reminded her to thank her family. Anna Chlumsky, who plays the veep’s chief of staff, mimed texting in the audience.

3. Behind the Candelabra‘s Michael Douglas, Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: He was classy, thanking his (estranged) wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and giving a shout-out to his incarcerated eldest son, Cameron, saying he hopes to be allowed to see him soon. But he wasn’t afraid to work the room: “This was a two-hander,” he said, addressing his costar/fellow nominee Matt Damon. “You’re only as good as your other hand.” He told Damon he deserved half the award: “So, do you want the bottom or the top?”

4. The Colbert Report‘s Stephen Colbert, Outstanding Variety Series: Finally beating The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in this category, he opened by admitting it’s not only a cliché to say just being nominated is an honor, it’s also a lie. Then, he tugged at the heartstrings, thanking his late mother: “I want to thank my mom for not worrying about me, and for believing that I would be okay.”

5. 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: Wigfield started by apologizing to her parents because she knows they love Louis C.K., but Fey quickly took over with one of the lines of the night: “No one said you could talk, Tracey.” Fey said she shares the award with her partner of seven years, Robert Carlock — but still kept it light and funny.

NEXT: Upsets make for good TV

6. The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels, Lead Actor in a Drama Series: The surprise winner got even the losers in his category laughing with his self-deprecating reference to the last acting award he won — a golden Barcalounger for Best Actor Over 50 from the AARP. “With all due respect to the AARP, this is better.”

7. Boardwalk Empire‘s Bobby Cannavale, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: An upset even to himself, Cannavale had no speech prepared but remembered to thank his son, the director who coached him through “the weirdest first day of work I’ve ever had in my life — 12 hours of beating somebody to death with four kinds of rubber wrenches,” the cast, his reps, and the “love of his life,” Rose Byrne.

8. Political Animals’ Ellen Burstyn, Best Supporting Actress for a Miniseries or TV movie: Most of all, she wanted to thank producer Greg Berlanti, “who had the wisdom to write a woman over 65 who still had a lot of juice.” She made a point, without starting a fight.

9. The Colbert Report‘s Stephen Colbert, Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series: He thanked The Daily Show for setting the standard and his writers for giving him those brilliantly stupid things to say. But he gets this spot for surprising us with the shout-out to his wife “for being so cruel and sexy.”

10. Veep‘s Tony Hale, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: He was adorably sweet and earnest, which works for a first-time nominee and winner.

NEXT: Predictable isn’t always bad

11. The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons, Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: You believe him when he says he knows how exceedingly fortunate he is to win his third Emmy — and when he added, “It’s so silly to be emotional, isn’t it?”

12. The Hour’s Abi Morgan, Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or TV movie: The visibly nervous surprise winner for the British period-piece series spiced up a thank-you filled speech with a promise to show her Emmy Award to the immigration agent.

13. Modern Family‘s Steve Levitan, Outstanding Comedy Series:

Levitan’s been an Emmys speech all-star in the last four years of Family domination. And he had a great Twitter-ebating opening zinger about this year’s bleak mortality obsession — “This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we’re happy.” From there it was all boilerplate, although you gotta enjoy anyone who thanks the bullies and gym coaches for insulting him into comedy.

14. Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan, Outstanding Drama Series:

TV genius and genuine southern gentleman Gilligan gave a generous speech, name-dropping all his fellow nominees, proudly declaring the modern era as a golden age of television, and even sending a shout-out to “My sweetie, Holly.” It was a quiet speech. Maybe he’s saving the pyrotechnics for the inevitable 2014 win, when Gilligan grabs the Best Drama Emmy and explodes the dais with a piece of fulminated mercury. Vroom-vroom!

15. Saturday Night Live’s Don Roy King, Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series:

You want family shout-outs? Don Roy King has some family shout-outs. And they were pretty funny! He said hello to his 16-year-old daughter Cameron and his 93-year-old Aunt Peg. The cutest speech of the evening.

NEXT: The totally acceptable

16. American Horror Story: Asylum‘s James Cromwell, Outstanding Supporting Actor for a Miniseries or a TV movie:

The classy Cromwell said the word “indefatigable” and pronounced “literally” like Chris Traeger. He didn’t say much else. But maybe that was enough.

17. Modern Family‘s Gail Mancuso, Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series:

You want family shout-outs? Gail Mancuso has family shout-outs. And they were…well…she shouted people out! A weird joke about playing “Blurred Lines” instead of “Pokerface” fell flat, although presumably it’s hit like dynamite in the demographic of People Related to Gail Mancuso. And she had a Hitchcock shout-out. Jeff Daniels didn’t have a Hitchcock shout-out.

18. Dancing With the Stars’ Derek Hough, Outstanding Choreography:

He thanks lots of people. And then he said “Holy crap.” We support incoherent excitement. But incoherent excitement does not a good speech make.

19. Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:

Gunn’s quietly-powerful performance finally received its due. Gunn herself gave a breathless speech filled with gratitude for everyone she could think of. “Bryan Cranston just told me to breathe,” she said. Good advice!

20. Homeland’s Claire Danes, Lead Actress in a Drama Series:

Claire Danes won the 2013 Actress Trophy, and was in direct speech-competition with Claire Danes, who won the 2012 Actress Trophy. (Remember? Pregnant! Holla!) A lovely tribute to the late Henry Bromell added some energy to an otherwise predictable speech.

NEXT: Try harder, next year!

21. Behind the Candelbra‘s Steven Soderbergh, Best Directing, Miniseries or movie:

Soderbergh gave a pleasantly abashed speech noting that everyone who worked on Candelabra owed the film’s success to Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. True…but kind of boring. Maybe Soderbergh should retire from giving speeches and just make another darn movie already.

22. Behind the Candelebra‘s Jerry Weintraub, Outstanding Miniseries or TV movie:

“It was gold and we took it to the gold standard.” We don’t know what that means, but we support it. Still, we expected more from the famously outspoken Weintraub.

23. The Voice‘s Mark Burnett, Outstanding Reality Show:

The reality TV uber-producer beat standard winner The Amazing Race, but didn’t do much more than offer several thank-yous and make the metrically-specious claim that The Voice was “The Number One Young American Music Show Ever.”

Not Present: The Big C’s Laura Linney, Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie and David Fincher, Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series:

Linney’s no-show did earn a sharp line from presenter Matt Damon: “She’s such a great actress that she didn’t even need to show up.” Shade: Thrown.

In a Class By Herself: Sarah Bromell, accepting for her late husband, Homeland’s Henry Bromell, Writing for a Drama Series