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updated: 9/21/2012 5:07 PM

Will 'Downton Abbey' end 'Mad Men' Emmy streak?

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  • PBS' "Downton Abbey" could claim outstanding drama honors at the Emmys, ending the winning streak for AMC's "Mad Men."

      PBS' "Downton Abbey" could claim outstanding drama honors at the Emmys, ending the winning streak for AMC's "Mad Men."

  • Can Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the rest of AMC's "Mad Men" fend off the Brits to win a fifth Emmy for outstanding drama? If so, the show would make Emmy history.

      Can Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the rest of AMC's "Mad Men" fend off the Brits to win a fifth Emmy for outstanding drama? If so, the show would make Emmy history.

 
The Washington Post

Every year the Emmy Awards leave us wondering what numskull thought a three-hour trophy show in which the same TV programs win the same derbies they won last year, interspersed with speeches by Hollywood B-listers showering praise on their agents, lawyers and personal trainers, made for riveting television.

Is it any wonder that such a large swath of the American public reacts to the prospect of watching the annual broadcast like people being pushed toward dangerous machinery in which they would rather not become entangled?

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At first glance, Sunday's Emmycast on ABC looks particularly treacherous. (The awards start at 7 p.m., red carpet coverage at 6.)

Who among us is looking forward to a 10th-consecutive variety series win for "The Daily Show," a fifth-consecutive drama series win for "Mad Men" and the annual Jeff Probst Reality Show Host Award?

But this year is going to be -- different!

For starters, we can state with absolute certainty that this will be the first Probst-acceptance-speech-free Emmy show since the creation of the best reality series host category. The "Survivor" host, who has won that competition every year since it began in 2008, is not nominated this year.

No one's quite sure how it happened. Probst has said he did not step aside like a gentleman to give some other deserving reality series host a chance, as some had assumed.

Pushing Probst out of this year's running: Betty White, who hosts NBC's cringe-inducing old-people-are-so-cute-when-kicking-youngsters-in-the-groin candid camera series "Off Their Rockers."

Should White actually win the Emmy, it would be something new for the category, though scarcely what you'd call progress. But for Emmy experts, the non-nomination of Probst back in July was like the sight of the first crocus peeping through the snow in early spring.

A world in which Probst does not win the Emmy for best reality series host is surely a world in which it's possible for "Mad Men" to not win a fifth-consecutive Emmy for best drama series, they reasoned -- out of earshot of "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, of course.

There's a good chance they'll be proved right. Because, for the first time, "Mad Men" competes with "Downton Abbey."

This year the TV academy's rules committee pronounced that PBS's "Downton" could no longer compete in the race for best miniseries -- the category it won last year. This year, "Downton" must compete as a drama series.

It's a well-known fact that Emmy voters are notorious snobs. If there's one thing they love even more than a '60s-set ad-agency drama series wallowing in handsome men with brilliantined hair and sharkskin suits, smoking non-filtered cigarettes, it's a crunchy-gravel drama populated by characters delivering their lines with proper British accents, headlined by an actress who has "Dame" in front of her name and is written by a Baron Fellowes of West Stafford who has a seat in the House of Lords.

If "Downton" proves to be this generation's "Upstairs/Downstairs" -- the British crunchy-gravel PBS show that the TV academy passed back and forth between the drama and miniseries competitions back in the '70s -- things could go badly for "Mad Men." "Upstairs/Downstairs" won the Emmy every year it competed, no matter where the academy pigeonholed it.

While disappointing news for TV wonks who are hoping "Mad Men" makes Emmy history -- it's currently tied with "Hill Street Blues," "LA Law" and "The West Wing" at four best-drama wins -- a "Downton" victory would be a relief for those dreading another Weiner acceptance speech.

There's also hope that the nine-year stranglehold by "The Daily Show" on the best variety show category might be ended Sunday, though those optimists suffered a blow when Comedy Central's faux newscast won its second-consecutive Emmy for best variety series writing during the so-called Creative Arts night of the Emmy ceremony last weekend.

Still, some believe that "The Daily Show" is vulnerable -- people such as awards show obsessive Tom O'Neil, founder of the all-things-trophy-show website GoldDerby.com.

O'Neil, who each year gets the scoop from TV academy members as to what shows submitted which episodes to Emmy voters, says this year "The Daily Show" submitted a surprisingly weak episode. Because, yes, while "The Daily Show" telecasts around 160 original episodes a year, in theory Emmy voters judge programs based on a submitted episode -- or episodes, depending on the category.

"The Daily Show" submission, according to O'Neil, is one that ran Feb. 16. That episode featured a lengthy interview between host Jon Stewart and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the ramifications of the Education Department's Race to the Top initiative in which zzzzzzzzz ...

There also was -- Gold Derby noted gleefully on its site -- a "painfully unfunny (and looooong) skit by Larry Wilmore blasting (Asian-American) NBA star Jeremy Lin ... who, Wilmore says, gets too much media attention during Black History Month."

Meanwhile, ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" has been nominated in the variety show category for the first time. Kimmel, who's hosting this year's Emmycast, submitted his "After the Academy Awards" special.

That episode virtually co-starred Her Royal TV Highness Oprah Winfrey. It also included appearances by George Clooney, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal, plus a musical performance by Coldplay.

You do the math.

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