Two of the five nominees for Best Movie/Miniseries Writing — Steve Moffat and Heidi Thomas — can stop scribbling an acceptance speech as their respective programs — “Sherlock: A Study in Pink” and “Upstairs, Downstairs” — are not in contention for the top prize. The last winner of this race to prevail for a program that had been snubbed was Horton Foote for “Old Man” in 1997.
The frontrunner is Julian Fellowes, who created “Downton Abbey,” a sprawling account of the lives of the wealthy residents of an country house and their servants in Edwardian England. Fellowes won an Oscar in 2001 for penning the similarly themed “Gosford Park.” Emmy voters may be impressed by the complexity of his script, which is the sole nominee that has not been adapted from a book. This is a surprise, given the scope and scale of the world which Fellowes has created. This costume drama does not suffer from any stuffiness with storylines stuffed with intrigue including the coverup of an untimely death, a blackmailing footman, a devious lady’s maid, and a disgraced war hero.
Oscar nominee Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven,” 2002) shares his first Emmy bid for scripting with Jon Raymond for their adaptation of James M. Cain‘s 1941 bestseller “Mildred Pierce.” They are strong contenders for bringing humanity and depth to these larger-than-life characters. Haynes also helmed this five-part miniseries. His flair for melodrama is unmatched, particularly in the finale of when Mildred and her daughter Veda’s relationship comes to a tumultuous end.
Peter Gould based “Too Big to Fail” on the nonfiction book by Andrew Ross Sorkin about the recent financial crisis. Compared to the action-packed plots of “Downton Abbey” and “Mildred Pierce,” this is a 90-minute lecture. There’s no suspense to be found in Gould’s script which details the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Even Emmy nominated performances by William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, and James Woods do little to liven up this telefilm. Anyone who’s seen the Oscar-winning documentary “Inside Job” will find these stories all too familiar.
Moffat netted a nod for “Sherlock: A Study in Pink,” one of his three scripts updating the Arthur Conan Doyle characters. With this rather charming, sometimes overly clever updating of Sherlock Holmes, Moffat proves there’s still life left in this 125-year-old stories. Unlike Guy Ritchie‘s joyless 2009 feature, “A Study in Pink” has humor and heart. However, as this was the only major nomination for this telefilm, a win is highly unlikely.
Also likely to be an also-ran is Thomas who updated the 1970s series “Upstairs, Downstairs.” However, with just three parts to tell her tale, Thomas crams too much action into every scene. There’s scarcely a moment that feels effortless and the miniseries — which was not nominated — suffers in comparison to “Downton Abbey.” While Thomas did an excellent job on “Cranford,” which reaped her an Emmy bid in 2008, this marks a step backward.