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Emmys 101: Get to know 'Downton Abbey' and 'Mildred Pierce'

Downton Abbey

(Nick Briggs/ITV/Masterpiece)

Last night, when the Emmys were announced for the Miniseries or Made or Television Movie category, two telefilms – Downton Abbey and Mildred Pierce – swept six of the seven categories. If you’re one of the people who hasn’t developed a driving obsession with these two series (especially the smash U.K. hit Downton Abbey, which is still a bit of a cult success Stateside), never fear. We can catch you up after the jump.

Downton Abbey
Last Night’s Haul: Outstanding Miniseries or Made for Television Movie; Outstanding Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie (Maggie Smith); Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special (Brian Percival); Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or Movie (Julian Fellowes)
Headliners: Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens
Who’s Behind It: Fellowes, the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park, The Tourist, and Vanity Fair
The Story: Violet Crawley (Smith) is matriarch of a close-knit Yorkshire family in the years leading up to World War I. The first season begins the day after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912 and concludes as the war breaks out on Aug. 4, 1914. As the family searches for a male heir for their estate, and Violet’s daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) seeks a suitor, we learn that there is tension, resentment, and – sometimes – betrayal beneath the Crawleys’ air of civility.
Why Watch?: As if names like Violet Crawley and Branson the chauffeur weren’t deliciously British enough, tune in for the elaborate costumes and complex network of relationships between Downton Abbey’s staff.
Fun fact: The show is in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Highest Critical Review Ratings For A TV Show” – it’s the first British show to achieve this feat ever, beating out fellow Emmy winners from last night Mad Men and Modern Family.
How You Can Catch Up: PBS will be re-airing season 1 episodes Sundays in December, starting Dec. 25. If you can’t wait until then, the entire season is available for purchase on iTunes. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes goodies on the show’s website.
What’s Next?: The show’s second season premieres on PBS Masterpiece Classic Jan. 8, 2012.  Expect it to shoot for another Emmy – in the drama category – in 2012.

Mildred Pierce
Last Night’s Haul: Outstanding Lead Actress, Miniseries or Movie (Kate Winslet); Outstanding Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie (Guy Pearce)
Headliners: Winslet, Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Brían F. O’Byrne
Who’s Behind It: Todd Haynes, Oscar-nominated writer-director of Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine, and I’m Not There
The Story: In the depths of the Great Depression, Mildred Pierce (Winslet) is abandoned by her husband. Left to fend for herself, she opens a restaurant and finds love with society scion Monty Beragon (Pearce) along the way. But what overprotective, self-sacrificing Mildred really wants is the love and respect of her desperately ambitious, self-obsessed daughter Veda (Wood).
Why Watch?: Winslet, Winslet, Winslet. According to EW’s own Ken Tucker, she “raises soap opera a bit closer to art.”
Fun fact: This five-part miniseries takes inspiration from the 1945 Joan Crawford film, which had an added murder mystery and was penned by William Faulkner.
How You Can Catch Up: HBO subscribers can watch the the entire miniseries on demand at HBO Go. The DVD is also available for pre-order at Amazon.
What’s Next?:
When not saving billionaires’ mothers from burning buildings, Winslet is currently in theaters in Contagion and will appear in Roman Polanski’s Carnage this December; Pearce has several projects in search of a release date, including Australian indie 33 Postcards and Nicolas Cage revenge thriller Seeking Justice.

Read more:
Emmys 2011: What was the best moment last night? How about the worst?
The Emmy Awards show review
Emmys 2011: 14 Memorable Moments

Originally posted September 19 2011 — 12:50 PM EDT

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