Emmys 2013: Julian Fellowes of 'Downton Abbey' on season 3, 'Smash'

Emmys 2013: Julian Fellowes of 'Downton Abbey' on season 3, 'Smash'
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes holds Emmys awarded to his series in 2011. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The British are known for maintaining a stiff upper lip, even in moments of triumph, which is why Julian Fellowes was glad to have a friend from Los Angeles with him at lunch when he learned that "Downton Abbey" had been nominated for a whopping 12 Emmys.

"She was the one person who understands how important these things are, she was screaming around the restaurant," he said via telephone from a London taxicab.


"Downton Abbey's" impressive haul included a writing nod for Fellowes as well as nominations in each of the four acting categories for Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Jim Carter.

"You can never expect this level of success for anything. You'd be a mad person if you did," said Fellowes. "To get 12 on the third year seems to me to be wonderful stroke of luck."

And what a year it was: The third season of "Downton Abbey" saw ratings soar to new heights, with more than 8 million viewers tuning for the finale on PBS. Meanwhile, the aristocratic Crawley family suffered a one-two punch of tragedy with the death of youngest daughter Sybil followed shortly by that of heir Matthew.

The dark turn took some viewers by surprise, especially those in England, who watched dear Cousin Matthew's bloody demise on Christmas Day. Rest assured it was just as sad for the cast and crew, though Fellowes is able to see the upside.

"It's hard to dramatize happiness and Mary having to rebuild her life is all quite interesting in terms of dramatic narrative," he said. "I wouldn't say the show has suffered except we've all lost a pal [in actor Dan Stevens] and he's gone off to greener pastures."

The (fictional) death also paid off for Fellowes: His script for the tear-jerking episode in which Lady Sybil, the sweet but rebellious youngest Crawley daughter, dies during childbirth, earned him his third writing nomination for the series. (He won in 2011, when "Downton Abbey" competed in the miniseries category.)

"I was very pleased. I did think the cast did incredibly well. I was pretty proud of it," he said.

Fellowes is something of a rarity in that he's the sole writer on his series, something he says is only made possible by the more restrained "English length" of "Downton Abbey."

"Writing 11 hours of television is quite enough, but if it was 27 episodes I couldn't do it," he said, adding that he uses his wife, Emma Joy Kitchener, as a sounding board and initial reader.  How very Lord Grantham-esque of him!

Given the highly addictive quality of "Downton Abbey," it only seems appropriate that Fellowes himself is also something of a binge-watcher, though he prefers the hopelessly old-fashioned delivery system of DVDs.  "I  prefer to watch it in gulps and that means watching the box set, because then I've sort got some control over it. I'm always out and I'm trying to watch later on the Internet and then the Internet doesn't work."

He recently indulged in "Love and Marriage," a British series for ITV starring the great Alison Steadman, and has brought the first two seasons of "Homeland" with him for a holiday that begins Friday.


Another favorite is the short-lived NBC musical "Smash," though unlike many snarky viewers on this side of the pond, his admiration for the series is sincere.

"I love musicals. 'Smash' for me was extraordinary as a TV musical I couldn't imagine such a thing existing, let alone working," he said. "I'm also a big fan of Marilyn Monroe. So in a way there was a lot of wish fulfillment going on all around."