Inside track: Emmy race for Best Drama Series — what’s ahead to win?

Homeland” pulled off an upset last year, winning Best Drama Series for its freshman season. In the process, it took down undefeated, four-time champ “Mad Men” and also prevailed for acting (Claire Danes, Damian Lewis) and writing. The Showtime hit returns to defend its crown in 2013 with an increase in nominations (11 vs. 9), including bids for newcomers Morena Baccarin, Mandy Patinkin, and Rupert Friend.

Four of its 2012 competitors are back in 2013 to contend again: “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Mad Men.” Rookie show “House of Cards” completes the field. For the second time ever, there are no broadcast programs in this race.

Breaking Bad” has the best odds among our Experts, Editors, and Users to triumph for its fifth season after suffering four losses in the past. If it finally triumphs this year, it will join “The Sopranos” (2004) and “24” (2006) for finally prevailing upon its fifth time at bat. Voters are usually biased in favor of more snobbish, stylish programs (“Homeland,” “Mad Men,” “The West Wing”), but “Breaking Bad” has a strong plus this year. AMC is airing its final episodes during the Emmy voting period  when all Hollywood will be bidding a tearful goodbye to the critically hailed show (recent winner of Best Program of the Year at the TV Critics’ Association Award). This year “Breaking Bad” reaped the same number of nominations as last year (13), one of them was its first-ever bid for writing. It also has key nominations for editing and sound mixing (often examples of wide voter support).

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Game of Thrones” leads with the most nominations (16, up from 11 last  year) and is also critically hailed (TCA just voted it Best Drama Series), but voters usually spurn programs with fantasy elements. Only one has won in recent Emmy history. “Lost” bagged this category in 2005, but that show’s supernatural elements weren’t prominently on display yet in that first season as “Lost” focused more on personal character stories.

Breaking new ground as the first web-based /streamed show in this race is Netflix’s “House of Cards,” which also has bids for acting (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright), directing (David Fincher) and editing among its total tally of nine nominations. “House of Cards” has the requisite Cool Factor and snob appeal with a twist. Offering inside glimpses of Washington D.C. politics, it’s like past four-time champ “The West Wing,” starring anti-heroes instead of heroes.

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British import “Downton Abbey” dropped back to 12 nominations this year from 16. Although it won as Best Miniseries in 2011, the only major category it nabbed in 2012 was for Maggie Smith as Best Supporting Actress. However, don’t underestimate its Emmy odds. No nominee in this race has more snob appeal, since it’s an expose of the British class system just like “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which won this category three times as Best Drama Series (1974, 1975, 1977) and once as Best Miniseries/ Limited Series (1976). In fact, the original “Upstairs, Downstairs” never lost when competing in a program category.

And what of the mega-stylish “Mad Men“? It’s tied with “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” and “The West Wing” for having the most victories in this category (four). Don’t shrug it off just because it lost last year to “Homeland.” Other past champs rebounded after losses, including “L.A. Law” and “The Sopranos.” But “Mad Men” had a disastrous Emmy run last year, setting a new record for worst shut-out (17 defeats, no wins). Now it has 12 nominations. None for writing or directing. Programs that win in this category usually have one of those bids or another. Over the past 15 years, the only exception to that rule was “The Practice” (1999).


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