‘Downton’ shift causes Emmys to ponder

Drama series could possibly expand to 10 noms

The move of PBS’ “Downton Abbey” from miniseries to drama series for this year’s Primetime Emmy race could be the impetus for the TV Academy to expand its top series categories to 10 nominees next year.

So says John Leverence, awards chief at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, who emphasized that the earliest any shift might happen would be the 2013 Emmy race.

“It’s an abundance of riches,” Leverence told Variety. “Maybe someone will say we have to have 10 nominees, like the motion picture academy. That argument could be made for the extraordinary abundance of shows. Maybe six isn’t enough.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded its best picture category to 10 nominees for the ceremonies held in 2010 and 2011, but then shifted to a weighted percentage system that yielded nine nominees for the Oscar race that wrapped Sunday. The TV Acad has increased its series nominee slots as well of late, expanding from five to six in the drama and comedy categories.

Having “Downton Abbey” switch from miniseries to drama was instigated by the Academy, not PBS, which carries the popular British drama as part of its “Masterpiece” series. According to the Emmy rule book, a show is a miniseries when it is “based on a single theme or story line, which is resolved within the piece.”

The move to a drama series is precipitated when there is an “ongoing theme, storyline and main characters that are presented under the same title and have continuity of production supervision.”

In short, Leverence explained, “The essence of a miniseries is a single theme or storyline that’s resolved within a given year.” When it was obvious that the sprawling family drama set in pre- and post-World War I Britain, would have a second season, the nominating committee began to have discussions about moving it to drama series.

“Downton” surprised bizzers last fall when it beat a field that included HBO’s high-profile “Mildred Pierce” to win the Emmy for miniseries or movie — before the Brit import caught fire on this side of the Pond

PBS did not put up a fight over the category switch.

Said “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton: “We understand the Academy’s decision. There are great shows in the drama series category and it will be exciting to have ‘Downton Abbey’ in competition with them.”

Also making the move from the longform field to the more competitive drama series heat will be British import “Luther,” which airs on BBC America. Star Idris Elba was Emmy nommed last year and earned a Golden Globe in January.

While the move from mini to drama series is unusual, it’s not unprecedented. Leverence listed three other shows that have made the switch: In 2005, USA Network mini “The 4400” was transitioned to the drama series category a year later. Also making a category transformation was Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell” in 2007 and USA’s “The Starter Wife” in 2008.

Now with both “Downton Abbey” and “Luther” in the drama series mix, the category will have a plethora of top candidates. In addition to last year’s six nominees, five of which will be vying for another chance to repeat — “Mad Men” (winner), “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Good Wife,” “Dexter” and Game of Thrones” — there are several newcomers looking for kudos recognition.

Freshman series that will aim to receive awards love include Showtime’s “Homeland,” NBC’s “Smash,” ABC’s “Revenge,” HBO’s “Luck,” AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” FX’s “American Horror Story,” and USA’s “Suits.”

“It’s hard to predict,” said one network publicist about how the race will play out. “It’s kind of a unknown quantity at this point. It’ll be interesting for sure.”