‘Downton Abbey’ the Continual Emmy Underdog

A version of this article was published to Gold Derby on July 11th as “Is Downton Abbey in Trouble at Emmys?

Downton Abbey inexplicably competed in the miniseries categories for 2011 and won many high-profile Emmys, upsetting HBO’s Kate Winslet vehicle Mildred Pierce, which had led all programs in nominations.  The British period piece then moved to the drama series categories last year and surprised everyone by exceeding its previous nomination haul, despite the steeper competition.  The show went from two acting nominations to six; only two people out of the over 1400 who used Gold Derby’s predictions center forecasted the first-time nominations for supporting performers Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter.

Gold Derby is again predicting conservatively this year when it comes to Downton Abbey.  The second season reaped seven nominations in the seven drama categories that Gold Derby publishes odds for; Gold Derby odds are in favour of just four nominations for the third season.  This school of thought has emerged that the Julian Fellowes drama will underplay at the Emmys this year may be more bias-driven than logic-based.

The first season of Downton Abbey was a critical gem, scoring 92 on review aggregate Metacritic.  Its second and third seasons tumbled to 84 then 83, still qualifying as a quality production, but not truly befitting of the “Masterpiece” title that American broadcaster PBS has subtitled it and putting it a bit out of its league competing with Breaking Bad, which scored 99 for its most recent season.  One might think that this argument crumbles because the series’ faltering should have already been accounted for last year, but the Emmys are notorious for not always having their finger on the pulse and also for having a soft spot for flavours of the moment.

Glee was a pop culture sensation in its early years; however, from a critical perspective, the show was defined as a “hot mess” with as much disarray as potential.  The first season overachieved with nineteen nominations and was seen as a threat to win Outstanding Comedy Series.  The next season dropped just two points on Metacritic and made up for it with a similarly dubious uptick in Nielsen ratings.  Despite the relative consistency, the second season fared much worse at the Emmys, losing major nominations for writing, directing, lead actor and lead actress.  The Emmy trajectory for Downton Abbey could prove to be similar if it follows up its overachieving year that ultimately did not take home the top prize with a year in which its nominations are dramatically reduced and the cynics rejoice.

In addition to its staggering level of popularity, Downton Abbey owed many of its second-season nominations to savvy Emmy strategizing and submitting.  Whereas many series submit their entire casts for consideration, PBS submitted no more than two performances per category and only one episode for best directing in a fruitful effort to mobilize support.  PBS set out this year with the same strategy, but the ballot ultimately listed three performances in each supporting category.  The network had intended to submit Elizabeth McGovern as a lead actress for the third time, but the Oscar nominee took Gold Derby’s advice and moved to the more-appropriate supporting category.  Meanwhile, Dan Stevens had previously been campaigned by PBS in the lead actor category, but the network opted not to submit him this time around.  Stevens entered himself—in the supporting category.  Lead actress Michelle Dockery just scored her first Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, which would normally make her a lock for a repeat Emmy nomination, but her screen time was reduced this year such that will make it hard to compete with actresses who truly lead their shows.  Gold Derby odds rank her at just fifth place.

While Downton Abbey has much to worry about in the telecast categories like directing against pilots for House of Cards and The Newsroom, as well as in the aforementioned acting categories, it is considerably safer below the line.  Creative Arts categories that it has won like costumes, hairstyling and music composition are locked up, as are most departments that garnered recognition as both a miniseries and a drama like art direction and casting.  Only two trouble spots exist in the technical races: picture editing and sound mixing.  The former again faces new competition in House of Cards and The Newsroom, while the latter tends to favour series with more obvious sound work.  Downton Abbey submitted a war-heavy episode last year with battle scenes, but the third season featured nothing so high-octane.


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