Emmys: 'Downton Abbey' Creator on Balancing Comedy With Tragedy, Advice for Host Jimmy Kimmel

Nick Briggs

With 10 total Emmy nominations, winning the big drama award would be tough but isn't unprecedented, as creator/showrunner Julian Fellowes recalls the highlights of the period series' final season and the most challenging scene to pull off.

Most challenging scene to pull off this season

Probably the scenes at the track in episode seven. This was both because of the logistics of shooting vintage cars racing, which was no picnic as you can imagine, but also we had to gauge the mood and the tone very carefully. Downton has always had a mixture of comedy and tragedy or, at any rate, sad things happening, but our other three deaths — of William the footman, Sybil and Matthew — were all at the end of the relevant episodes, which allowed the audience to be as miserable as they liked for as long as they liked. Here we had a terrible and needless death, which had to be woven into the fabric of the narrative, with other stories and even comedy going on around it. I found that quite difficult, but thanks to our amazing cast, I think it came off in the end.

Most rewarding scene to see completed

There were many scenes I loved in this series, but perhaps I would choose either the scene where Mrs. Patmore has to tell Carson that Mrs. Hughes wants to know precisely what she is to expect from their coming marriage, or perhaps the breakfast scene where Mary tells Bertie that Edith has an illegitimate child, thereby wrecking her sister's engagement. Part of the fun of writing a series that runs over several years is that the writer and the actors develop the characters together. I don't mean to sound vain, but I have been writing this show on my own for six years, and by the end, I really did know how to write for particular characters and how to give them situations they would make the most of. Both these scenes illustrate that marvelously. The actors were wonderful in them. But then, they were wonderful throughout.

If I was in charge of Emmy seating, I'd put myself next to …

Probably Julianna Margulies, Kerry Washington or January Jones because I was and am such a fan of The Good Wife, Scandal and, above all, Mad Men. I love them all.

If I could convince anyone in the world to give my Emmy speech for me, I'd choose …

Kevin Spacey, assuming that Dorothy Parker really is dead.

My advice for Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel

Call everyone "darling," like British actors do. It covers the fact that you can't remember anyone's name.

My Emmy night ritual

How lovely to think we are lucky enough to have been to enough Emmy nights to have a tradition. The fact is the Television Academy has been very, very generous to our show, and I am tremendously grateful. It was terrific to learn that we had been nominated 10 times [including Creative Arts nominations] in our final season, allowing us to go out on a high. Really, my tradition is simply to turn up and feel extremely privileged to be there.


Seasons: 6 on PBS
Executive producers: Rebecca Eaton, Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge
Emmy history: 69 nominations, 12 wins
2016 Awards: SAG Award for best drama ensemble; National Television Award (U.K.) for most popular drama
Viral Moment: On March 6, the day the series finale aired, 25,000 people posted 66,000 tweets about the episode.
Fun fact: Maggie Smith didn’t watch a single episode while the show was on the air. She was afraid she would be overly critical of her performance.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.