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British aristocracy takes up residence in Emmy drama category

The upper lips aren't so stiff as 'Downton Abbey's' exultant creators and actors celebrate 16 nominations.

July 19, 2012|By Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times
  • Elizabeth McGovern, left, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery star in "Downton Abbey."
Elizabeth McGovern, left, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Michelle… (Nick Briggs / PBS )

The dignified aristocrats and servants of "Downton Abbey"have found themselves socializing with meth dealers, smooth-talking ad men, terrorists and booze smugglers as one of the nominees for drama series. PBS' period drama received 16 nominations for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, which were announced Thursday.

The English series, about an upper-class family and its cadre of domestic aides, won the award for movie or miniseries last year but was reclassified as a full-fledged drama for this year's ceremony. That category change could have worked against the program — but didn't. The second run of the show garnered a drama nomination — setting it in an exceedingly competitive field with the likes of "Mad Men,""Boardwalk Empire" and newcomer"Homeland."

Should it win, "Downton" would be the first public television program to achieve this since "Upstairs Downstairs" took home the drama prize in 1988.

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"The very steep competition can only be considered a compliment, since they are all fantastic programmes," creator Julian Fellowes said in a statement, "and I hope they are as happy as I am, celebrating their nominations."

"We're up against 'Mad Men' … that's a bit scary," Michelle Dockery, who plays contemptuous Lady Mary Crawley, told The Times.

The noble, fictional Crawley family also keeps its honor intact with multiple nods for the show's actors: Dockery is up for lead actress in a drama and Hugh Bonneville, who plays patriarch Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, is a contender in the lead actor category. The biting and lovable Dowager Countess of Grantham was not to be ignored: Maggie Smith earned a nod in the supporting actress category for her turn as the formidable matriarch.

Bonneville, in a statement, noted America's embrace of the series and the position he now finds himself in: "I can hardly believe that I've been nominated alongside five legends of contemporary television drama —Steve [Buscemi], Bryan [Cranston],Michael [C. Hall],Damian [Lewis] andJon [Hamm]. I'm truly honoured."

Downton's dutiful and chatty servants were not too lowly for recognition, also earning some upstairs acknowledgment: Brendan Coyle (who plays John Bates) and Jim Carter (who plays Mr. Carson) were recognized in the supporting actor in a drama category, and Joanne Froggatt (who plays Anna) will battle it out with Smith. "This is the biggest and best shock of my life, I honestly didn't expect it and I'm overwhelmed," Froggatt said in a statement.

"We've got six actors nominated and three are above the stairs and three are below the stairs," said Gareth Neame, the managing director of the production company Carnival Films and the executive producer of "Downton Abbey. "We are a democratic show."

The series' 16 nominations are a big boost from last year's 11. The recognition casts a brighter spotlight on the already well-liked series that has brought the stuffy public-television broadcaster renewed attention. Despite shifting "Downton" to the drama category, PBS retained its grip on the miniseries realm with "Sherlock:A Scandal in Belgravia." Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars as world-famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, garnered a lead actor in a miniseries or movie nomination.

PBS will have to wait until January, when the new season of "Downton Abbey" premieres, to see whether the awards commotion pulls in new viewers. The drama settled into a ratings groove with its sophomore outing — it was the second most-watched program at 9 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, and its February finale pulled in 5.4 million viewers.

"Funny thing is, we were planning to show the finished first episode of the third season to the cast tonight because press [coverage] is starting for it and they like seeing the complete version before answering questions," Gareth said. "I think we have now added some champagne into the mix. A lot of champagne."


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