Are we crazy for underestimating ‘Downton Abbey’ at the Emmys?

According to our racetrack odds, “Downton Abbey” will be snubbed in the Drama Series race for the first time in three years. And we are predicting that this Brit hit will be bounced as well from three of the four races for series regulars.

But why are we so quick to jump off the “Downton” bandwagon? Has this period piece really weakened, or are we foolishly underestimating it?

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We are predicting that reigning champ “Breaking Bad” will return to the Drama Series race (and win) as will “House of Cards,” “Game of Thrones” and four-time winner “Mad Men.” And we expect the other two nominees to be HBO’s new anthology series “True Detective” and CBS’s resurgent “The Good Wife.” 

Our Experts, Editors, Top 24 and all Users rank “Downton Abbey” in eighth, behind the second season of “The Americans” and ahead of the freshman “Masters of Sex.” Of last year’s other six Drama Series nominees, we also expect 2012 champ “Homeland” to be snubbed; indeed it just makes our Top 10. 

While “Homeland” suffered a major critical and audience backlash for its recent third season, “Downton’s” critical support has only softened somewhat — the latest season still scored 72 on MetaCritic — and it’s still well liked. 

And “Downton” is still a big ratings hit on both sides of the pond. The fourth season premiere was its most watched episode ever in the US with 10.2 million viewers and its finale was seen by 8.5 million, the most for a season-ender. That’s more than watched “Game of Thrones” this year, but “Downton’s” record viewership got fewer headlines.

Even though “Downton” is no longer the media sensation it once was, there’s reason to believe another veteran nominee is far more vulnerable. “Mad Men,” which sits in sixth place, hasn’t won a single Emmy since its last Drama Series victory in 2011. In the last two years, “Downton” has won four, including Best Drama Supporting Actress for Maggie Smith in 2012. And it has consistently scored nominations in important categories like writing, directing, and casting.

With our odds predicting that Smith is the only actor expected to return this year, do we risk being caught by surprise again?

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After all, Hugh Bonneville has made the cut for Best Drama Actor twice in a row. Last year, he made it in over perennial nominees Michael C. Hall (“Dexter“) and Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire“), despite being ranked eighth in our predictions. However, this year, he faces a deluge of new challengers: “True Detective” leading men Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, “Masters of Sex” star Michael Sheen, and three-time Drama Actor champ James Spader for “The Blacklist.” Bonneville ranks 16th

Two-time Drama Actress contender Michelle Dockery is also up against a field of potential first-time nominees, including Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black“) and Lizzy Caplan (“Masters of Sex“), but she has prevailed over tough competition before. Last year, she numbered among the seven nominees, alongside returning champ Claire Danes (“Homeland”) who prevailed again, perennial nominee Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and  first-timers Robin Wright (“House of Cards“), Kerry Washington (“Scandal“), Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel“), and Connie Britton (“Nashville“). Who got the boot? Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”), who we’re now ranking second in the race while Dockery is 10th. Are we betting on the wrong leading lady?

And what about Jim Carter? We’ve made a bad habit of dismissing this character actor, who earned consecutive Drama Supporting Actor bids in 2012 and 2013, even though few were predicting him to be recognized in either contest; indeed last year, he was ranked 26th. He may even have some extra room to breathe this time, since last year’s winner Bobby Cannavale (“Boardwalk Empire”) and nominee Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad“) were killed off on their shows and aren’t returning to the race. Nevertheless, Carter ranks ninth in our predictions.

“Downton” is expected to pick up one new nomination, however. Paul Giamatti ranks among our top six for Best Drama Guest Actor. Giamatti is already an Emmy-winner for playing the title role in the miniseries “John Adams” (2008), and the TV academy likes him so much they nominated him again for his brief supporting turn as Ben Bernanke in the docudrama “Too Big to Fail.” He has a prominent role in the “Downton” season finale as Elizabeth McGovern‘s brother, who visits from America, so the Emmy darling could strike again.

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Do you think Smith and Giamatti will be the only major nominations for “Downton” this year, or should we think again about the show’s chances? Predict Best Drama Series below and discuss all things Emmy in our forums.

5 thoughts on “Are we crazy for underestimating ‘Downton Abbey’ at the Emmys?

  1. “While “Homeland” suffered a major critical and audience backlash for its recent third season, “Downton’s” critical support has only softened somewhat — the latest season still scored 72 on MetaCritic — and it’s still well liked.”

    This is the perfect example of why Metacritic cannot really be trusted (it only accounts for a few episodes of the season). You correctly point out that Homeland suffered a bigger backlash, but its Metacritic score was a 77 — 5 points higher than Downton. So you can’t use the site to say that Homeland suffered a huge backlash whereas Downton’s support only softened.

    Also, the Game of Thrones numbers are spread across multiple platforms, so I wouldn’t be so quick to crown Downton based on the US ratings.

  2. For the third season, ‘Downton Abbey’ apparently had a gross American audience of twenty-four million, so it probably still edges out ‘Game of Thrones’ on the all-platforms front.

  3. It’s nothing short of bizarre to me that Downton is this underestimated. Don’t forget that when you mention it to people in Hollywood, so many go ‘oh that’s my faaaavorite show’ and many men I know got into it because their wives made them and now they’re hooked too. I bet they watched this year, and I don’t see them being quick to drop it just yet. Even if they wouldn’t pick it to win, they’d pick it to get a nomination.

    While Hugh’s up against it just because the category’s got so many strong new or newish people, Michelle and Jim Carter for sure both have the tapes. Mary mourning Matthew, c’mon it’s a 2 hour episode and one in which she and Jim have moving scenes together. What Jim Carter can do subtly can just break your heart. We get to see Mary break his when she lashes out, but she apologizes later and he gets to hold his surrogate daughter as she grieves the love of her life. I can’t remember if the one involving his old pal Charlie was part of the US edit for the first ep or not. So hard to keep track of US/UK ep edits for the beginning of the season. Don’t forget Joanne Froggatt. Frankly she’d be a threat for a surprise win in that category if she can get the nomination. She got one previously out of nowhere it felt like, so they know who she is and appreciate her work. She had a heck of a run this year. Loved Paul Giamatti, and he really had an impact in the Christmas special/US finale ep. He stole the show and was in turns gruff, hilarious, and even sweet.

  4. Hopefully it gets a bunch of snubs, (I’m sorry, I just find the show to be horrible), but you’re right, it’s always a possibility it will rake the nods like it usually does. It scares me what a threat it could be. Last year I never in a million years would have guessed we’d being seeing Jim Carter and Hugh Bonneville with nominations. The voters obviously like it way better than I do.

  5. Let’s not forget that they Emmy voters are a bunch of 65 year olds, and the show basically is targeted towards them (don’t get me wrong it’s a great show)

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