The HBO television series "Veep" and "Game of Thrones" took the top prizes at the 68th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, in a televised ceremony that delivered some laughs but few suprises.

It was the second year in a row that political satire "Veep" and "Game of Thrones," the fantasy series now in its sixth season, won the prizes for best comedy series and best drama series, respectively.

"Game of Thrones" was nominated for 23 awards and took home 12, matching the record it set in 2015.

"Veep" had been up for 17 awards but took just three, including a fifth consecutive win for best lead actress in a comedy by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Another favourite, the true-crime series "The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story," a dramatization of the 1995 murder trial of the US football star, won nine Emmys, including the award for best limited series.

Jeffrey Tambor ("Transparent") repeated last year's win for best actor in a comedy.

Amid the deja vu, a few newcomers made it to the podium.

First-time nominee Rami Malek ("Mr Robot") won for best lead actor in a drama, while Tatiana Maslany ("Orphan Black") won the prize for best lead actress in a drama, in a surprise win for the BBC America series.

As it did in 2015, HBO led the platforms in the winners' circle, with 22 wins, followed by FX Networks with 18.

Perhaps the evening's biggest surprise was a cameo appearance by former US presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, who appeared in the broadcast's opening sketch as Louis-Dreyfus' driver, explaining he was "between jobs."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico inspired some of the ceremony's most memorable jabs.

Louis-Dreyfus used her acceptance speech as a platform for a mock apology for "the current political climate."

"I think 'Veep' has torn down the wall between comedy and politics," she said. If Trump wins the US presidency, she promised "to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it."

US comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who emceed the ceremony, took time out from his opening remarks to berate Mark Burnett, who produced "The Apprentice," the reality show that made Trump a household name in the US.

"Who is to blame for the Donald Trump phenomenon?" Kimmel asked. "That guy," he said, pointing to Burnett. "If [Trump] gets elected and he builds that wall, the first person we're throwing over it is Mark Burnett."

One of the world's top television prizes, the Emmys have recognized achievements in dozens of categories for more than 60 years.

This year's edition comes amid a creative resurgence in small-screen entertainment fueled by a shift in at-home, on-demand viewing that has led to what critics have called television's second golden age.

Television and online streaming series regularly draw Hollywood's top talent, who say they are attracted by the genre's new prestige and creative freedoms.

Kimmel praised the year's offerings, saying "after 68 years, television still manages to surprise us," while Television Academy chief executive Bruce Rosenblum asserted that "television dominates the global entertainment landscape."

But amid all of the self-congratulation, one winner skipped the ceremony: Dame Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey"), whose absence drew comedic fire from Kimmel when she won the Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama series.

Holding Smith's trophy, Kimmel said it would not be mailed to the 81-year-old actress.

"Maggie, if you want this, it will be in the lost and found," he quipped.

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