mad men 510 jon hamm christina hendricks Emmys 2012: 4 reasons why 'Mad Men's' best drama streak may endWhen we presented our final Emmy poll yesterday, which listed the nominees for outstanding drama series, we mentioned that it was the strongest group of shows we’ve seen in some time. “Mad Men,” of course, is still at the top of that heap, having won the award four years in a row. In fact, the show has never lost as long as it’s been on the air.

But there are plenty of reasons to think that this could be the year “Mad Men” abdicates its throne.

The show had an “A-minus” fifth season. After an 18-month absence, the show came back strong, but had some problems sustaining its usual excellence for the entire season. Everything from the sledgehammer symbolism to fat Betty Francis (January Jones) to the over-reliance on Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) was cited in the first year where the show wasn’t universally praised. That’s not to say that the show fell from its perch as one of the best on TV. But, as critics tend to do, they graded the show against its own extremely high standards; against that curve, the fifth season didn’t quite reach the heights we saw in previous years. The folks at the academy might take that as an opening to vote for another show, given the competition.

“Breaking Bad” is back. It wasn’t in consideration last year because of a scheduling quirk, but it’s back this year, leading award watchers to wonder once again when it’ll be time for Vince Gilligan and company to get their due. Its fourth season, with the escalating tension between Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), was one of the show’s strongest, and it could just eke out a win over its ever-so-slightly vulnerable AMC cousin.

“Homeland” and “Downton Abbey” are legitimate challengers. Critics lavished praise on Showtime’s “Homeland” this year, and for good reason: it’s one of the first dramas in years to give viewers great performances and exciting action while using straightforward, compelling storytelling. And “Abbey” is continuing its momentum from last year, when it was the most talked-about PBS show since the original “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Both shows have their fans in the academy, and if they don’t win the prize outright, they may take enough votes away to make “Bad” the winner. Oh, and don’t discount the presence of “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire,” either; both HBO shows have their loyalists, and they may also take votes away from “Mad Men.”

Four Emmys are enough. No show has won five Emmys for outstanding drama. Not “The Sopranos” or “Hill Street Blues” or any of the other shows people think of as Emmy repeat darlings. As much as the academy loves to hand out awards to old favorites, even they get bored after awhile. And with the level of competition this year, no one would fault the academy for resisting the urge to hand Matt Weiner and company yet another statuette.

Now, there’s every chance in the world that, despite all of these factors, “Mad Men” will take home its fifth award for outstanding drama. But wouldn’t all of us be happier to see someone else (like Gilligan … hey, we’re just sayin’) close the night for a change?

Posted by:Joel Keller