The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards were held on Sunday, September 20, 2009. CBS broadcast the Primetime event and E! broadcast the Creative Arts event; both took place at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California. The nominations were announced on July 16, 2009.
On July 13, 2009, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that Neil Patrick Harris would host the Primetime ceremony (even going so far as to play Dr. Horrible at one point). The Creative Arts Emmy Awards for prime time were hosted by Kathy Griffin on September 12.
After the previous year's lackluster performance in ratings, the Primetime Emmy Awards were hoping to achieve success by selecting Harris as sole host, as opposed to a group of hosts as in the previous year. The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards earned a 4.2 rating in the 18–49 demo and drew 13.3 million, 1.1 million more than the previous year's all-time low.
30 Rock became the sixth show to win Outstanding Comedy Series three consecutive years, winning three major awards on that night. 30 Rock made history when it smashed the record for most major nominations by a comedy series with 18. The Cosby Show had held the record of 13 since 1986, while 30 Rock had tied this the previous year. The 18 major nominations became the third biggest record of all time, behind Roots' record number of 21 in 1977 and NYPD Blue's mark of 19 in 1994. These records still stand.
The drama field also crowned the defending champion, AMC's Mad Men. It won two major awards on that night. After airing for fifteen seasons, ER went out a winner as its series finale won for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. This was the first major win for ER since 2001.
History was also made by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Amazing Race. Both programs won their series categories for the seventh straight year, this broke the record for most consecutive victories in a major category of six that was held by The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cagney & Lacey. The Amazing Race would lose the following year. However, in 2013, The Daily Show's streak was finally snapped by The Colbert Report, after a record of ten consecutive wins.