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The Emmy Winners Were All About Reinvention

The 2015 winners represented wisdom, grace and inclusivity

The first words spoken by Emmy host Andy Samberg on Sunday night’s telecast promised “the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history,” but that proved not to be true of the winners.

This year, if you wanted an Emmy, you pretty much had to have been alive when Richard Nixon was president.

That even applied to 44-year-old Jon Hamm. The youngest of the winners in the leading categories, he may have been the best example of how this year’s TV awards were all about reinvention, persistence and searching for meaning as we grow older. His Mad Men character, Don Draper, finally found a kind of spiritual peace in the series’ final season, which put an exclamation point on a show that made Hamm a star after toiling as a journeyman actor for 15 years.

Everywhere you looked Sunday night, there were signs that Emmy voters value actors and characters who continue to grow and change as they get older:

Allison Janney earned her seventh Emmy for Mom, the CBS sitcom where she plays a great-grandmother living in a four-generation household and trying to find direction in a life she has boozed her way through.

Stewart joked it has been difficult finding purpose and free food post-Daily Show, which probably rang true for fellow "retirees."

Transparent, the Amazon dramedy about a 70-ish husband and father who realizes he can only be true to himself if he comes out as transgender, took home five Emmys. Jeffrey Tambor, whose TV career began with a Kojak episode in 1977, won his first Emmy for Transparent, which charts how society is changing, both in its acceptance of aging and of the LGBT community.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose acceptance speech included a self-deprecating crack about her failing eyesight, picked up her sixth — and fourth consecutive — Emmy for HBO’s Veep, which also won as Best Comedy series. Her character may have stumbled her way into the Oval Office, but she’s a shining example that a person in midlife can reinvent herself all the way to the most powerful job in the world. Louis-Dreyfus’ co-star, Tony Hale, also won for playing a character who has ridden his boss’ coattails into the banana-peel-strewn corridors of power.

Olive Kitteridge took home seven Emmys, including a previously-announced one for its casting directors. Based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive is the story of a cranky New Englander struggling to find self-acceptance and, perhaps, love. Frances McDormand, who also produced the miniseries, won acting honors for the HBO show, as did co-stars Bill Murray and Richard Jenkins. McDormand, who has said she became a producer in an effort to make sure older women’s stories get told, hinted at the possibility of a sequel.

Viola Davis became the first African American woman to win the Lead Actress in a Drama award for ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder.  Davis, who celebrated her 50th birthday in August and has said she was never cast in a sexual role until she began Murder last year, used her acceptance speech to campaign for more roles for African American actresses. Intriguingly, the episode Davis submitted to Emmy voters was not the much-discussed one in which her character removed her make-up and wig to reveal the “real” her, but one that spotlighted a courtroom scene in which her character, Annalise, demonstrated her power and character.

Regina King‘s Emmy for her supporting role in Netflix’s Bloodline is her first major award in a three-decade-long career. King thanked “my amazing mother and grandmother, who have taught me the power of being a woman.”

David Benioff, who took home Emmys for co-writing and co-producing HBO’s Game of Thrones, is on something like his third career. He was an English teacher when he wrote The 25th Hour, a novel that became a bestseller, brought him to the attention of Hollywood and set him on a path to becoming one of show biz’s most powerful producers.

And maybe the most intriguing winner of the evening was Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, from which host Jon Stewart retired earlier this year after 16 seasons of fake news. Stewart joked that it has been difficult finding purpose (and free food) in his post-Daily Show weeks, a comment that probably rang true for his fellow “retirees.” “You will never have to see me again!” promised Stewart, whose 2014 film, Rosewater,  launched his new career as a film director.

That promise is almost certainly untrue, but it underscores the scary and exciting place Stewart finds himself in, along with many others who have hit their 50s: He accomplished his goals in his most recent project and now it’s time to figure out what comes next.

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