“The reason there hasn’t been much on TV on the Vikings beforehand, of course, is you would imagine it’s a hard sell. You’re trying to get people to sympathize with people who come through the door with axes,” admits Michael Hirst, the creator and executive producer of the History Channel’s hit drama “Vikings.” Indeed, their reputation as violent plunderers precedes them, but Hirst adds, “I’m showing a much richer, much more complex society than I think people have imagined.”
His approach has proven a ratings success. It debuted on March 3 with more than six million viewers and averaged more than four million during its first season. History announced the show’s renewal for a second season on April 5.
But how will the series fare at the Emmys?
Early 20th-century period dramas “Boardwalk Empire” and “Downton Abbey” have done well in recent years, both earning nominations for Best Drama Series last year, and “Deadwood,” set in the 19th century, earned a Drama Series bid in 2005.
However, shows that reach further back in the history books have had more difficulty being recognized, which is ironic given how popular Elizabethan dramas are at the Oscars.
Showtime’s “The Tudors,” also created by Hirst, explored the reign of King Henry VIII, but despite 15 nominations and six Emmy wins in Creative Arts categories, it was never nominated for writing, directing, acting, or Best Drama.
Similarly, Showtime’s “The Borgias,” about the rise of corrupt Pope Alexander VI during the 16th century, has received a total of 10 nominations and two wins in its first two seasons, all in Creative Arts races.
“Rome” — about the rise and fall of Julius Caesar — only ran for two seasons on HBO, but nevertheless amassed an impressive 15 nominations and seven wins, but those too were relegated to craft categories.
In contrast, historical epics have done quite well in the Emmys’ longform categories, where programs like “John Adams,” “Elizabeth I,” “Peter the Great,” and “Shogun” have won top honors. Can “Vikings” help to extend that success into the series races?
Among the cast of “Vikings” is Gabriel Byrne, who entered for consideration as Best Drama Actor, a category where he was nominated twice for HBO’s “In Treatment” (2008, 2009).
The series’ crew is also full of Emmy favorites. Costume designer Joan Bergin is a three-time champ for “The Tudors.” Production designer Tom Conroy also won for “The Tudors.” Composer Trevor Morris won Emmys for scoring both “Tudors” and “Borgias.” Cinematographer John S. Bartley won in 1996 for “The X-Files.”
Given its impressive pedigree, it’s fitting that Hirst says of possible Emmy nominations, “It would mean a huge amount to me … because of everything everyone has put into it. I’ve worked with a lot of very, very talented people, and that would be recognition of a collective effort.”
Will the series succeed at the Emmys beyond craft categories? Watch our complete interview with Michael Hirst below and make or edit your predictions in our prediction center.