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'Mad Men' may tie record as Emmy's drama series champ

August 31, 2011 |  3:30 pm

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What do "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing" all have in common? They hold the record for winning the Emmy Award for best drama series the most times: four apiece. AMC's "Mad Men" can join that illustrious group if it wins the top award again Sept. 18.

"Hill Street Blues" (1981-84) and "The West Wing" (2000-03) each won four times in a row, so "Mad Men" would join it as a consecutive champ. The victories by "L.A. Law" were spread over five years. It prevailed for its freshman season in 1987, lost the following year to "thirtysomething" and then roared back to win three more in a row.

Unlike all of those programs, "Mad Men" will complete its overall seven-season run with its creator, showrunner and chief writer Matthew Weiner still aboard. He completed very public negotiations this summer with AMC, meaning that the series could go on to break the record if the quality holds for future seasons. Stephen Bochco led both "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" during their groundbreaking earlier years and then left them in the hands of others as he turned to other projects. Aaron Sorkin was the braintrust for "West Wing" for its first four years of Emmy-winning success, but not for the final three seasons. All three shows suffered in quality and ratings after their creative forces departed.

Of course, "Mad Men" isn't under the time pressures associated with network programs like those winners from NBC. The cable show's producers have to assemble only 13 episodes per season rather than 22 or more. That allows them more time off to reenergize themselves and devise the storylines for the following season. They also aren't forced to come up with "filler" episodes just to make it through a long nine-month process.

"Mad Men" also is showing no decline in Emmy interest yet. It has 19 nominations for its fourth season, the most in the show's history (with 17 nods in 2010 and 16 bids each in 2008 and 2009). In the race for best drama series, it faces off against freshman shows "Boardwalk Empire" (a Golden Globe winner) and "Game of Thrones," returning faves "Dexter" and "The Good Wife," and the final season of "Friday Night Lights."

Yet "Mad Men" faces a disadvantage that it didn't have in previous Emmy races. During the last three voting periods, new episodes of "Mad Men" aired while voters were still checking off their ballots. This year, due to protracted contract negotiations, the series didn't start up again in time. Will that matter? The last new episode of "Man Men" aired Oct. 17.

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: "Mad Men." Credit: AMC

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