In the last seven years AMC has taken home an astonishing six Outstanding Drama Series trophies at the Primetime Emmy Awards—truly remarkable for a cable network in a category that until then largely was dominated by the four commercial broadcast networks and HBO. With Mad Men taking four consecutive wins—from 2008 to 2011—and Breaking Bad nabbing the last two, in 2013 and 2014, AMC only has been beaten by Showtime’s debut season of Homeland, which took the prize in 2012. But with Breaking Bad out of the picture and new Emmy voting rules allowing for a much wider range of Television Academy members to vote for this award—rather than the usual Blue Ribbon panels of the past—there is the possibility for a real sea change. Can Mad Men in its final season come back after three defeats to triumph again? Can Homeland resurge? Can newcomer Better Call Saul, a spinoff of Breaking Bad, continue that show’s legacy? Can Orange Is The New Black move from comedy to drama and score here in its second season? Or could this be the breakthrough year in this category for such perennials as House Of Cards, Game Of Thrones or Downton Abbey?
Here is how I see things shaking down.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
In just 10 debut episodes, this Breaking Bad spinoff has landed a freshman nom in this category as well as an impressive six others. There was some question as to whether BCS should even be a drama entry, but its expert mix of heavy material with a light tone made it a natural to follow Breaking Bad’s success. Against such stiff competition as Mad Men’s final season, is BCS ready for a win—or will voters wait until next year to see if it really is the real deal it appears to be? I would say an Emmy is unlikely this time around.
Downton Abbey (PBS)
This show won a gaggle of Emmys its first time out in 2011, when it was deemed a miniseries. But the next season it was a full-fledged series and has been nominated every year since, but not yet won in this category. Downton Abbey clearly is a TV Academy favorite, particularly for older voters. With the announcement that next season will be its last, fans might feel more urgency to give the series its due—or not. There’s always next year. Plus, it’s been widely acknowledged this season was not its best.
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
On the surface this bloodfest fantasy piece would not seem to be a natural for TV Academy tastes. But with 83 nominations—including in this category for each of its five seasons—and 14 wins overall, it very much obviously is. With more voters than ever casting ballots in this category, and with GoT leading with 24 total noms this year, I am betting that, across the board among TV Academy members—both above- and below-the-line—this could be the one to beat. GoT clearly has impressed Emmy voters.
This is the rare drama that took this crown on its first try in 2012—impressive since it stopped four-time winner Mad Men and prevented a historic fifth win in a row. Homeland was nominated again the next year for a season not nearly as good as the first, and then was ignored last year as, creatively, it fell on hard times. But observers agree the series is back on track and this nom confirms that. Can it be a spoiler again? With only five nominations overall this year, a win would be tough to secure.
House Of Cards (Netflix)
The Netflix upstart has been nominated in this category for all three of its seasons and this year it has 11 nominations overall, including acting noms for its two leads, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The politically hot-button drama has been biding its time waiting for main competition Breaking Bad to exit. Now with the country’s political races heating up, HoC seems more relevant than ever. But can Netflix finally bring home a major winner and really shake up this TV game? It’s very possible.
Mad Men (AMC)
This year, no other series in the category has the pedigree of this one. A nominee for Outstanding Drama Series in each of its eight seasons, and a winner in the first four, Mad Men went out with a bang earlier this year with a very satisfying finale—not an easy task to pull off. Emmy voters might want to return the show to its winning ways for this last blast of nostalgia and award one of TV drama’s all-time greats. Or not. Maybe voters will feel it has been rewarded enough.
Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Now in its second season but dealt a drama series rank thanks to new Emmy rules, OITNB lobbied the TV Academy to be reclassified as a comedy. Obviously Netflix didn’t want to compete against itself here, already having House Of Cards in the running. But the TV Academy rejected the plea and placed the show where it belongs—in the drama category. Get a clue, Netflix. This show just ain’t that funny and voters liked it enough to give it this nom. OITNB should just be happy it got invited to the party.
The winner: Game Of Thrones