Is ‘Downton Abbey’ in trouble at Emmys?

For its first season, “Downton Abbey” competed in the movie/miniseries categories in 2011 and won six of its 11 Emmy bids, including Best Movie/Mini over HBO’s Kate Winslet vehicle “Mildred Pierce,” which had led all programs in nominations, as well as directing, writing and supporting actress (Maggie Smith). 

The British period piece then moved to the drama series categories last year and surprised everyone by exceeding its previous nomination haul reaping 16 bids, despite the steeper competition. It went from two acting nominations to a surprising six. Only two of the more than 1400 users at Gold Derby forecast first-time nominations for supporting performers Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter. While they all lost their races as did lead nominees Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery, Smith did win the supporting actress award. 

This year, Gold Derby is again predicting conservatively when it comes to “Downton Abbey” which is expected to compete again for Drama Series, Drama Actress (Dockery), Drama Supporting Actress (Smith) and Drama Guest Actress (Shirley MacLaine). 

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This school of thought that the Julian Fellowes drama will underplay at the Emmys this year may be more bias-based than driven by logic.

The first season was a critical gem, scoring 92 at Metacritic. The second and third seasons tumbled to scores of 84 and 83 respectively. While still qualifying as a quality production, it may not be befitting of the “Masterpiece” subtitle assigned to it by American broadcaster PBS. And it is far from the near perfect score of 99 given to “Breaking Bad.”  

Since the series was seen by critics as faltering in its second season, why did its nomination haul go up instead of down? The Emmys are notorious for not always have their finger on the pulse and for falling for flavors of the moment.

For example, “Glee” was a pop culture sensation in its first two years. The first season scored 78 at Metacritic and reaped 19 Emmy nominations, including bids in every acting category. It was seen a strong contender for Comedy Series, which went to another newcomer “Modern Family.” The second season dropped just two points on Metacritic. Despite the relative consistency, the show fared much worse at the Emmys, earning only 12 bids and being snubbed for writing, directing, lead actor and lead actress. 

Could “Downton Abbey” follow this same trajectory? 

It owed many of its second-season nominations to savvy Emmy strategizing and submitting.  Whereas many series enter their entire casts for consideration, PBS submitted no more than two performances per category and only one episode for best directing in a fruitful effort to mobilize support. 

PBS set out this year with the same strategy, but the ballot ultimately listed three performances in each supporting category. The network had intended to submit Elizabeth McGovern as a lead actress for the third time, but the Oscar nominee took Gold Derby’s advice and moved to the more-appropriate supporting category. And Dan Stevens, who had previously been campaigned by PBS as a lead, entered himself in supporting after the network left him off their submission.

Dockery just scored her first Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. That should make her a lock for a repeat Emmy nomination, but her screen time was so reduced this year that it will be hard to compete with actresses who truly lead their shows. Gold Derby odds rank her in fifth place.

And while repeat directing and writing bids are not certainties either, especially with hot newcomers like “House of Cards” and “The Newsroom,” “Downton Abbey” is considerably safer below the line. It is likely to reap repeat bids in categories it has won — costumes, hairstyling and music composition — as well as art direction and casting. Only two trouble spots exist in the technical races: picture editing and sound mixing. For the former, it faces new competition in “House of Cards” and “The Newsroom,” while the latter tends to favour series with more obvious sound work.  Last year, “Downton Abbey” had an episode with WWI battle scenes, but the third season featured nothing so high-octane.

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