Breaking Bad and Behind The Candelabra were the main winners at the event, boosting ratings by 33% from 2012.
However reviews of the show, fronted by How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris, branded it “dull” and “dead”.
Many claimed the ceremony focused too much on tributes and musical numbers while cutting the winners’ speeches short.
“This was an Emmy telecast so plodding, lifeless and just plain glum that even the overdue best dramafor Breaking Bad failed to provide a lift at the end of the show,” said The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney.
Other winners on the night included Homeland’s star Claire Danes and comedian Stephen Colbert who won best variety series, with both having their speeches noticeably cut short.
“Isn’t the reaction of those performers – joyful, giddy, tearful, self-indulgent, whatever – one of the reasons people tune in, to see stars in unscripted moments?” wrote Brian Lowry for industry publication Variety.
He continued: “This year’s awards were competent, perhaps, but created scant opportunity for the gods to favour them.”
David Bianculli, who runs Tvworthwatching.com, criticised the lack of clips from the nominated TV shows, “when they needed it more than ever”.
The TV critic said that, with the competition including online shows like Netflix’s House of Cards and programmes from pay-TV networks such as HBO and Showtime, “the audience is more fragmented than ever”, and fewer viewers were likely to have seen Emmy-nominated shows than in the past.
Bianculli added: “The Emmys is one time that all viewers are coming under one roof. To not have [clips] is not using time wisely.”
Many acknowledged that the popularity of host Harris, a seasoned Broadway performer known for his exuberant song-and-dance numbers, may have contributed to the number of fans tuning in.
The opening segment where Harris was hijacked by previous hosts including Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch and Kevin Spacey, plus front-row hecklers Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, received a mixed response.
The LA Times failed to be won over by his hosting skills.
“Even super-host Harris can’t save mostly lifeless show,” read its review by TV critic Mary McNamara. “He seemed oddly off his hosting game in a show that featured too many tributes and not enough energy.”
The evening’s five separate In Memoriam tributes prompted Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan to quip that it was “the saddest Emmys ever”.
But the show received criticism for passing over the deaths of Dallas star Larry Hagman and Quincy ME’s Jack Klugman. Klugman’s son said the exclusion was “criminal” and “an insult”.
McNamara claimed the segments “did not just disrespect the other important figures who had also died last year, it dragged down the whole show, forcing the audience to follow moments of celebration or amusement with dutiful sorrow”.
However the awards’ executive producer Ken Ehrlich defended the tributes, which were delivered by friends and colleagues of the deceased.
“That was a very conscious decision – I felt it was more important to focus in on the faces of the people that were talking about them, because of their personal relationships, and allow them to speak,” he told TV Guide.
“I would have loved to do more, but there’s only so much time you have. And I thought we devoted the proper amount of time to those five pieces and then to the In Memoriam segment.”
It is thought large NFL viewing figures for the Sunday Nightbetween the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh (18.7 million) also played a role in the Emmys audience figures – the largest audience for the awards show since 2005.
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