‘Downton Abbey’ could stage a royal coup at the Emmys

While most Emmy pundits predict “Mad Men will reign as Best Drama Series for a record-breaking fifth time on Sept. 23, beware: there could be a royal usurper in the wings at “Downton Abbey.”

The reason: “Downton” has the elitist appeal that voters (Hollywood snobs, remember) adore and it’s already a proven winner, having triumphed last year as Best Miniseries.

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Snobbism is often key to bagging Emmys. Remember: the TV series that holds the record for winning the most Emmy Awards (37) was about two snooty brothers bickering over opera and vintage wine (“Frasier”). Most of the winners of Best Drama Series in recent years have had a slick, upperclass style: “Mad Men,” “The West Wing,” “L.A. Law,” “The Practice,” etc.

It really helps if the program has British elitist appeal, no doubt due to America’s notorious cultural inferiority complex. Best evidence of this can be found in the category of Best Miniseries where U.K. dramas frequently square off against Yankee fare and they often win — like “Elizabeth I” (2006), three “Prime Suspect” editions (1993, 1994, 1997) and “Downton Abbey” (2011), of course. In 2005, when every Emmy pundit on the planet predicted HBO’s “Empire Falls” would win Best Miniseries, it got usurped by BBC production “The Lost Prince” about the youngest son of British King George V. In 2009, when HBO’s Mideast war drama “Generation Kills” was forecast to claim that category, it was beaten by the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens‘ “Little Dorrit.”

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Let’s be honest: “Downton Abbey” is really a modern update of “Upstairs, Downstairs” and that has relevance nowadays considering the Emmy history of the latter. Just like “Downton Abbey,” “Upstairs, Downstairs” was often shuffled back and forth between categories. Back in the 1970s, it competed as a drama series, then a mini, then a drama again. The upshot: wherever “Upstairs, Downstairs” landed, it NEVER LOST — and often it staged upsets. In 1976, it beat the favorite “Rich Man, Poor Man” for Best Limited Series and it won Best Drama Series three times (1974, 1975, 1977) over such popular faves as “The Waltons,” “Columbo” and “Police Story.”

See how top Emmy experts rank the contenders in this year’s race for Best Drama Series and see how their collective views break down into racetrack odds at Gold Derby. Currently, Matt Roush (TV Guide Magazine) predicts “Downton Abbey” will win and Debra Birnbaum (TV Guide Magazine) and I have it ranked in second place behind “Mad Men.”

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