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Gareth Neame on 'Downton Abbey' backlash, BAFTA snub, and Emmy category switch [Video]

By Daniel Montgomery
May 28 2012 05:20 am
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Gareth Neame is the managing director of the production company Carnival Films and the executive producer of "Downton Abbey," which won Best Movie/Miniseries at last year's Emmy but this year will compete in the Best Drama Series race. "We were in the movie and miniseries category because we originally made 'Downton Abbey' as a stand-alone miniseries," says Neame, "but the show did so well when it was first aired in the UK, that we decided to go on and make a further season … it would have been strange for 'Downton' to have stayed in the movie and miniseries category."

"Downton" has become an unexpected international success, but with success sometimes comes controversy, and the series has encountered its share, including some public dissatisfaction with the second season. Neame speculates about the cause of viewer unrest: "As we rolled it out and turned it into a series, the nature of the storytelling perhaps became a little clearer … and I think people were perhaps more aware of the more soapy nature of the storytelling than they were when they watched the first season." But he stands by the style and pacing of the series, arguing, "The criticism that some people made about the second season were exactly what large audiences around the world were loving about it."

Despite the series's popularity in the UK and abroad, the drama was overlooked in the Best Drama Series race at the BAFTA TV Awards, which Neame attributes in part to voting politics. "My understanding is that the rules of BAFTA is that the UK broadcasters are able to fast-track their own nominees … we could have a debate about the rights and wrongs of that." Rather than dwell on the slight, he appreciates the widespread admiration for the show. "For this show to have won numerous Emmys last year, the Golden Globe, the Producers Guild Award, to have won a Guinness World Record for its critical reception around the world – there are so many fantastic accolades that we are so proud of … we don't expect to win every single award."

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In addition to "Downton," Neame is also the executive producer of "Page Eight," a contender for Best Movie/Miniseries starring Bill Nighy as an MI-5 agent working to expose corruption at the top of British government. It was written and directed by Oscar-nominee David Hare ("The Hours") – "one of the top playwrights in the world," according to Neame. "It's sort of political espionage meets poetry," he says of the film. "It's a writer's piece, and the fact that David has directed his own film as well puts the script very much at the heart of it, and it's an actors' piece … it's a great film I think."

Neame follows a long line of entertainers. He represents the fourth generation of the Neame family in the film and television business. "My great-grandparents were making movies before there was sound," he says, referring to early filmmaker Elwin Neame and film actress Ivy Close. "I honestly don't think there was anything else I could ever have done … My father and grandfather have sadly both recently died within the last couple of years, and they died really before seeing the full success of 'Downton,' which is a real sadness to me that they've not been a part of that, but I'm very proud to continue the work that they did."

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