In a move that’s almost shocking in its logic and truthfulness, PBS’ “Downton Abbey” will reportedly depart the miniseries category for this fall’s Emmys and move into the far more appropriate and competitive drama field.
The news first broke on GoldDerby.com, which got this somewhat confusing quote from TV Academy awards chief John Leverence.
“After starting out as a miniseries, ‘Downton Abbey’ caught fire and so now it moves over to drama series category as it plans for future TV seasons,” Leverence tells Gold Derby. “It follows the trajectory of previous shows like ‘The Starter Wife’ that started out as a miniseries and then became a regular series.”
Leverence’s quote makes the confusing assertion that it was success that made “Downton Abbey” into a worthy entrant for the series field, rather than “Downton Abbey” simply being a TV series that was miscategorized last year and then moved into the correct category this year.
It would be too much, presumably, for Leverence to say, “Yeah, British TV shows confuse us.” After all, does the shift of “Downton Abbey” to the correct category mean that the TV Academy will also stop calling “Luther” a miniseries? And will this enforce a ripple effect that will cause the Golden Globes and the various guilds to also stop calling “Downton Abbey” (and “Luther” and “The Hour”) a movie/miniseries or will it exist only in isolation?
The big question, and the reason I’m writing this as blog post rather than as a news story, is what impact moving “Downton Abbey” into the drama field will have on various category races that are already the most heated on Emmy night.
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The Outstanding Drama Series category, for example, has been won by “Mad Men” four consecutive years. Some folks think that’s a bad thing. I happen to think “Mad Men” has been the best drama on TV for four consecutive years.
Among last year’s fellow nominees, “Friday Night Lights” is over and no sane person expects the Academy to nominate “Dexter” again (or rather, no sane person *hopes* the Emmys will nominate “Dexter” again). That leaves two slots, assuming “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Good Wife” and “Game of Thrones” don’t fall out. “Homeland” is probably close to a lock, leaving only one available slot for “Downton Abbey,” but also theoretically for “Luck,” “Boss” or “American Horror Story,” to say nothing of “Breaking Bad” (nominated two years ago) and “Justified” (slowly making in-roads with the Academy). So all of these stories that are asking if “Downton Abbey” is going to end the “Mad Men” run are ignoring that merely getting nominated is going to be a fight for the PBS favorite, especially given a semi-consensus that “Downton Abbey” had a creative decline — the degree of said decline depends on who you talk to — in its second season.
If I had a hunch, I’d say “Downton Abbey” is probably likely to get a nomination, but that may just make HBO step up the promotional game for “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones” and “Luck,” which seemed like a no-brainer for contention before people actually saw the show.
What of the other nominations that came so easily for “Downton Abbey” on the Miniseries/Movies side that may not come so easily now?
Maggie Smith doesn’t need to worry, I’d guess. The movie/miniseries supporting actress winner is entering a field that loses last year’s deserving winner in Margo Martindale, but also has relatively bumpable nominees in Christine Baranski and Michelle Forbes. Even though at least one slot is guaranteed to be reserved for Jessica Lange for “American Horror Story,” Smith would just bump an established nominee and life would go on.
Elizabeth McGovern, nominated last year in the weaker lead actress movie/miniseres field will have a harder time, but it also won’t be impossible. The Lead Actress, Drama field loses Connie Britton and returning nominees Mireille Enos and Kathy Bates have to be considered at least somewhat soft. Claire Danes is a lock for a nomination, but we can safely assume Emmy voters aren’t going to vote on Golden Globe newcomers like Callie Thorne and Madeleine Stowe.
One person who definitely suffers is Hugh Bonneville, who was nominated for the Golden Globe for Lead Actor in a Movie/Miniseries, but didn’t receive a similar Emmy nomination last year (in a category that included Idris Elba for “Luther”). Assuming PBS decides to keep Bonneville as a “lead,” he wanders into the absolute hurrican of the Lead Actor, Drama field that loses last year’s winner in Kyle Chandler, but will feature the return of Bryan Cranston, plus new faces like Damian Lewis, Golden Globe winner Kelsey Grammer, long-time presumptive nominee Dustin Hoffman and more. Even Hugh Laurie, who smart money would have guess was easily droppable this year, is going to get an inevitable boost from whatever stops the writers pull out as “House” approaches its series finale. No matter how zeitgeisty “Downton Abbey” feels at this exact second, the chances of Bonneville moving ahead of enough favorites to earn a nomination here are middling at best.
PBS will also have a handful of big choices to make about the entire “Downton Abbey” supporting cast.
Last summer, when “Downton Abbey” had yet to attain its current popular status, PBS limited its Emmy submissions to Smith, McGovern, Bonneville and Brendan Coyle. It’s hard to imagine Michelle Dockery, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter not at least being submitted this year, though none of the three are all that likely to earn nominations. But where does that leave somebody like Iain Glen? Could he be a candidate in the guest star field?
Most of the below-the-line nominations for “Downton Abbey” are probably safe, regardless of the selected field. Cinematography? Costumes? Art direction? Casting? “Downton Abbey” can hold its own in most of those fields, even if “Homeland” and “Luck” and “American Horror Story” and “Boss” and several other new shows make for a crowded pack.
The bottom line is that we were all going to make fun of the Emmys if “Downton Abbey” became an annual champion in a category it had no business competing in. Regardless of how much British TV flummoxes Emmy voters and the TV Academy, they’re smart enough to know that if something keeps getting renewed every year, it’s probably not a miniseries anymore. “Downton Abbey” isn’t and wasn’t a miniseries, so it’s probably better for the legitimacy of all concerned that it isn’t treated as one anymore.
What do y’all think? Will “Downton Abbey” have a big impact in the drama categories, or did this shift hurt its Emmy chances?