Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Killer Films & John Wells Prods w/ MGM and HBO Miniseries
Why It Was Nominated: Well, it was nominated for pretty much every other Emmy and so surely had to for this one. It hauled in a chart-topping 21 in all and already has won three award following last Saturday’s Creative Arts soiree. Todd Haynes’ five-part remake of the 1945 noir based on the James M. Cain book is another typically lavish, expensive, exquisite HBO multi-parter that the pay-cabler generally turns into real gold.
Why It Has To Win: Kate Winslet brings an Oscar-level cinematic cache’ to Mildred Pierce, which has historically proven to be catnip for the TV academy. The original won an Academy Award for Joan Crawford in 1945, and this one almost certainly will earn an Emmy for Winslet. Also, HBO doesn’t often lose with its big-budget miniseries, earning triumphs five times in the last 10 years (including last year for The Pacific). Plus, are voters really going to reject the year’s most decorated nominee in the most prestigious category?
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Trust us that this one ain’t in the bag. Firstly, this is the first time the made-for-TV movie and miniseries categories have been combined with the elimination this year of the miniseries stand-alone. It’s also a fact that while HBO has won in TV-movie an astonishing 17 of the past 19 years, including seven years in a row, it only wins in alternate years with its miniseries (and it won last year). Then there is this: PBS’s Masterpiece project Downton Abbey suddenly looks unbeatable. Notes a voting writer: “I don’t know anyone who isn’t voting for Downton Abbey. It’s one of those things that if you fail to honor, you’ll feel really embarrassed about 10 years from now.”
Masterpiece: Downton Abbey (PBS)
Carnival & Masterpiece
Why It Was Nominated: The more time that passes, the greater the buzz for this period pre-World War I ITV drama that landed 11 nominations altogether (honoring not just the overall project but also its writing and direction along with the performances of Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern). Everyone seems to speak of Downton in reverent tones, its quality rep growing so substantially that people on this side of the Atlantic even have stopped misspelling it “Downtown” Abbey.
Why It Has To Win: There’s plenty of precedent for Abbey to engineer what would at this point be only a mild upset. The PBS mini about the aristocracy and the servant class follows in the Emmy-winning Masterpiece tradition of Little Dorrit (2009) and The Lost Prince (2005). It also was just this week awarded by the Guinness World Records people with the accolade of having generated the “highest critical review ratings for a TV show” ever. That means the critics were left in awe. And they aren’t the only ones. “If Downton Abbey doesn’t win,” offers an Emmy-winning writer, “I’m rescinding my academy membership.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: You can’t overestimate the sway of a project that has people like Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood (as Mildred Pierce does). There is also just something about HBO and longform that has a hypnotic effect on the Emmy voting masses. Those snooty British accents can also sometimes turn off the TV academy, reminding it that Downton Abbey is, you know, not American.
Cinema Verite (HBO)
Pariah w/ HBO Films
Why It Was Nominated: The telepic based on the tale of the painfully dysfunctional Loud clan and the pioneering 1973 PBS reality series An American Family scored nine nominations and was noteworthy for its impeccable period detail and the nominated lead performance of Diane Lane as matriarch Patricia Loud. It too has an Oscar pedigree of sorts, with directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini having been nominated for their screenplay American Splendor in 2003.
Why It Has To Win: This would require a significant rewriting of conventional wisdom, but you never know. The fact that the Loud family fiasco happened in fairly recent history — and includes such reliable performers as Lane and Tim Robbins — certainly helps the cause. And again, given that it’s the first year when movies and minis are being scrunched down into a single category, all bets are off.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: That there are three HBO projects competing here doesn’t bode well. Nor does the fact that the Cinema Verite teleplay from David Seltzer failed to land a nomination. Plus, the nostalgic value of the 1970s has pretty much flamed out for the time being.
Too Big to Fail (HBO)
Spring Creek & Deuce Three Prods w/ HBO Films
Why It Was Nominated: What Too Big to Fail represents here is the kind of docudrama that has long been HBO’s bread-and-butter in terms of Emmy reward. Just in the past decade, there has been The Gathering Storm (2002), Warm Springs (2005), Recount (2008) and, last year, You Don’t Know Jack. The rip-roaring drama from director Curtis Hanson (a writing Oscar winner for 1998’s L.A. Confidential), it’s based on the book by Andrew Ross Sorkin about the 2008 financial-industry debacle.
Why It Has To Win: It could happen. Really. Too Big earned noms not just for top movie/mini but also for Hanson’s direction, for the Peter Gould script, for William Hurt’s scintillating performance as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and for the splendid supporting work of Paul Giamatti and James Woods. The brilliant cast greatly fuels the film’s chances, with a voting actor telling me, “The acting was just mesmerizing.”
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Were the film competing solely against other movies, it would stand as the favorite. But having to lock horns with Mildred Pierce and Downton Abbey simply is an impossible task. In other words, sadly, the film is not too big to fail but a bit too small not to.
The Kennedys (ReelzChannel)
Muse Entertainment w/Asylum Entertainment
Why It Was Nominated: Credit the Kennedy name itself for overcoming some gigantic obstacles en route to a wildly unlikely awards-season life. The six-hour, $25 million mini snapped up 10 Emmy nominations despite having been deep-sixed by History Channel after being completed. It was picked up by the obscure ReelzChannel in an improbable rescue and then shocked everyone again by landing not only this nom but acting honors for leads Greg Kinnear (as John Kennedy) and Barry Pepper (as Bobby) and supporting player Tom Wilkinson (as family patriarch Joe).
Why It Has To Win: It’s safe to say that the world as we know it would unravel were The Kennedys to carry this category. We’re talking biggest upset in Emmy history, from a miniseries that nearly disappeared without ever airing to a winner. On the other hand, its creative team of Joel Surnow and Jon Cassar of 24 fame has en Emmy pedigree. Its also possible the academy will want to make a statement.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: That The Kennedys has been anointed as much as it already has (having already won three statues at last Saturday’s Creative Arts ceremony) is more of a miracle than the mini had any right to expect. It would be a better longshot were it not up against Mildred Pierce and Downton Abbey. But it is. The end.
The Pillars of the Earth (Starz)
Tandem Communications & Muse Ent w/ Scott Free Films
Why It Was Nominated: Based on the bestselling historical novel by Ken Follett and focusing on a fictional story set in 12th century England, Pillars of the Earth represents a proud moment in the original production evolution of Starz. The eight-part miniseries is the first-ever nom for the network in this category, and the project earned it seven honors in all. It’s sweeping and epic and all of the things that we rarely see on television anymore.
Why It Has To Win: Let’s just come right out and say it: Pillars isn’t going to win. “The only way it could steal this Emmy,” believes one producer, “is if a predominance of voters suddenly became Comic-Con geeks.” But that fact doesn’t diminish what crashing this category says about Starz and the respect it’s beginning to muster in the creative community. And it points to the strides being made by Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht, a chief architect of HBO’s programming genius.
Why It Can’t Possibly Win: Oh come on, you know why.