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Emmy battle: 'Mildred Pierce' vs. 'Downton Abbey'

September 1, 2011 |  1:34 pm

Mildred vs downton

When it comes to the movie/miniseries categories, Emmy voters love to take a trip down memory lane. Just take a look back at recent winners like "The Pacific," "Temple Grandin, "Grey Gardens," "John Adams," "Recount," "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and "Elizabeth I" to see the trend in action.

It is more apparent than ever this year because all six nominees are period pieces in the newly combined category of best TV movie/miniseries. Of the 2011 candidates, four are multi-part miniseries and only two are movies. They all come with healthy pedigrees in both their stories and creative talents.

Most Emmy pundits predict victory for HBO's "Mildred Pierce," which has 21 nominations, the most of all programs competing this year. Academy Award-nominated director-writer Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven") adapted the book by James M. Cain that was a film in 1945, winning an Oscar for Joan Crawford. Another Oscar winner, Kate Winslet, stars as the title character as the story follows her romances, tragedies and estranged relationship with her overdemanding daughter (nominee Evan Rachel Wood) in 1930s California.

However, watch out for an upset by "Downton Abbey," which was the most buzzed-about, critically hailed show on the BBC last year. Airing on PBS in America, it focuses on aristocratic family members and their servants. Academy Award-winning writer Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") penned "Downton Abbey," which is set in England after World War I and is nodded in 11 Emmy categories. It is favored to win some major awards itself, especially for writing and supporting actress Maggie Smith.

Emmy voters are suckers for snooty British fare, as proved by recent upsets in this category by "Little Dorrit" (2009) and "The Lost Prince" (2005). "Downton Abbey" looks a lot like the original "Upstairs, Downstairs," which won the Emmy for best drama series three times (1974, 1975 and 1977) and best miniseries once (1976). However, "Downton Abbey" is vulnerable on the contemporary awards scene. Last year, when it competed at BAFTA as a drama series, it got usurped by "Sherlock." Now at the U.S. Emmys, there's much controversy over it being repackaged as a miniseries.

Another contender in this category, with 11 bids, is "Too Big to Fail," an HBO movie directed by Oscar- winning screenwriter Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential"). Emmy nominee William Hurt leads an all-star cast, which also includes nominees Paul Giamatti and James Woods in the behind-the-scenes story of the 2008 financial meltdown and its effects on Wall Street and Washington.

The miniseries "The Kennedys" almost never aired at all when the History Channel dumped it, but ReelzChannel stepped in and surprisingly reaped 10 Emmy nominations for it. Emmy winners Joel Surnow and Jon Cassar ("24") were the creative forces behind this telling of the Kennedy story, which focuses on patriarch Joseph (Tom Wilkinson), future president John (Greg Kinnear) and future attorney general Robert (Barry Pepper), all of whom received Emmy nods.

Oscar-nominated screenwriters Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ("American Splendor") helmed the HBO movie "Cinema Verite," which is up for nine Emmy Awards. It tells the story of the first reality series, "An American Family," from the early 1970s and is especially noted for the performance by nominee Diane Lane as Patricia Loud.

Starz received its first ever bid in this category with the miniseries "The Pillars of the Earth," which earned seven nominations. It is based on the historical novel by Ken Follett and centers on the fictional Kingsbridge, England, during the 12th century. The multi-parter competed earlier this year at the Golden Globes as did its stars Ian McShane and Hayley Atwell.

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photos: "Mildred Pierce" (HBO), "Downton Abbey" (PBS)

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