Many believe this might be the most competitive year ever in the Outstanding Drama Series race. Consider the contenders and weep. Returning champ Breaking Bad is up against AMC stablemate and previous four-time drama victor Mad Men. These shows have to compete against HBO’s juggernaut Game of Thrones, never a winner here but coming off its fourth and most successful season. Then there is the sophomore season of Netflix’s House of Cards and the perennial Downton Abbey. Add to this the wild card of HBO’s True Detective, which ran only as a self-contained, eight-episode series and is somewhat controversial because many thought it would compete as a miniseries. (The show’s “created by” credit made it automatically eligible for this uber-competitive category.) Just consider the quality of the shows that didn’t make the cut, including FX’s The Americans and Justified; Showtime’s Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex and past winner Homeland; NBC’s hit The Blacklist; and CBS’ The Good Wife, which has been enjoying its best season. Whew!
Breaking Bad, AMC
The critics’ favorite won a few acting Emmys over the course of its first few seasons, but it has come into its own in a “final” season that was broken into eight-episode runs over the course of two summers. Last year, Breaking Bad finally triumphed at the Emmys and since then also has won the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and TCA awards for best drama, giving us no reason to believe it won’t repeat again as a final goodbye for one of TV’s best shows.
Downton Abbey, PBS
I might have thought this British favorite would be overlooked for what critics generally considered its weakest season, but it is beloved by Emmy voters. They showered it with 12 nominations, including ones for lead actress Michelle Dockery, supporting actress Maggie Smith and guest actor Paul Giamatti, among others. It seems unlikely, though, that Downton can pull off a miracle win against this level of heavyweight competition.
Game of Thrones, HBO
This extremely bloody and deliciously diabolical fantasy piece just keeps gaining steam. Although it has yet to win in the drama category, Game of Thrones’ fourth season was phenomenal and the perfect example of a show really coming into its own. Emmy voters, addicted to the thing and praising it with 19 noms—the most of any show this year—just might want to finally honor it with their top prize. Or not.
House of Cards, Netflix
Last year, streaming-video service and television upstart Netflix made a big splash by getting this series into the drama race. I thought it might even have won considering all the heat surrounding it. Now it has cooled down a tad, so I would be particularly surprised to see House of Cards suddenly hit the winner’s circle this time around, despite the pricey Netflix campaign behind it.
Mad Men, AMC
After winning the drama series prize four times in a row—a record for a cable show—Mad Men slowed to a crawl, Emmy-wise, in its fifth and sixth seasons. Its seventh and final season has been given the Breaking Bad treatment by being split in half, with the rest of its swan-song episodes appearing in 2015. That way, if voters feel they want to give Mad Men a big sendoff, they can wait until next year. In other words, a win this year would be a shocker.
True Detective, HBO
Superb in every way, this unusual series played more like a mini with only eight episodes, but they were whoppers. Still, Emmy voters might be more likely to reward Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson with an acting trophy (they’re both nominated in the lead category), or director Cary Fukunaga, than the show itself, likely thinking it needs more time before grabbing the brass ring. But it is still a fairly formidable wild card.
The Winner: Breaking Bad
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