The same week two of the highest-profile longform entries of the year premiered — the HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn and the History miniseries Hatfields & McCoys – the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voted to cut in half the movie and miniseries acting categories.
Beginning with the 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards, instead of having separate lead and supporting actor/actress fields, as has been the case since 1979, there will be only one each for male and female actors: Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. They will feature six nominees each, one more than the five nominees both the lead and supporting categories currently have. That’s in line with the six nomination slots in the Emmy series acting categories.
The move comes on the heels of TV Academy’s decision last year to merge the best movie and miniseries categories into one, meaning that all longform Emmy categories have now been consolidated, including writing and directing, which had been merged since the get-go. The cutbacks in the longform categories have coincided with a rapid expansion of reality TV’s Emmy presence, and, according to TV Academy’s SVP Awards John Leverence, that reflects the change in popularity of the two TV genres.
“Categories align with programming,” Leverence explains. “Over the last decade, there’s been an increase in reality and a decrease in longform categories that corresponds to their primetime presence.”
Undoubtedly, the shift is a welcome one for the broadcast networks, which carry the Primetime Emmy Awards. The presence of so many longform categories during the main Emmy telecast had long been a bone of contention between them and the TV Academy.
Since they have largely abandoned longform programming, broadcasters had been increasingly vocal about having to pay for an Emmy telecast, a substantial portion of which excludes broadcast programming and showcases programs that few viewers have watched, thus contributing to the telecast’s ratings decline. The issue was a major sticking point in the most recent renegotiations between the TV Academy and the big four broadcast networks last year, which ultimately resulted in a new eight-year “wheel” deal that has ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox alternating in hosting the Primetime Emmy Awards.
The TV Academy first tried to shift eight categories from the live main Emmy telecast to a pre-taped ceremony in 2009. The eight targeted categories were longform-heavy and included the now merged best movie and best miniseries as well as the supporting actor and actress in a movie or miniseries, which have now been folded into lead actor/actress. At the time, the move backfired and, facing stiff opposition from guilds and cable networks, the TV Academy scrapped the plan. But, just three years later, three of those eight categories no longer exist.
The consolidation of the lead and supporting actor/actress also represents strategy continuity at the TV Academy as it is the first major Emmy rule change under new TV Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum and follows up on last year’s decision to merge the top longform categories under Rosenblum’s predecessor John Shaffner.
The ongoing consolidation in the longform arena is bad news for the few remaining networks commissioning such programming, led by Emmy juggernaut HBO and surging PBS. But while HBO’s Emmy trophy chances will certainly be hurt by the three fewer longform categories, the impact could be even greater on smaller cable channels that make TV movies, such as Lifetime and Hallmark, which could be shut out completely.
Lifetime’s EVP Programming Rob Sharenow said the network was disappointed with the decision. “Movies and miniseries represent some of television’s finest programming and it is our firm belief the industry should honor each category separately,” he said in a statement. “The Academy recognizes lead and supporting actresses and actors in other genres — as it should. However, the continued consolidation of the movies and miniseries categories will unnecessarily deny award-worthy films and performances from receiving their proper recognition.”
Veteran TV Producer Larry A. Thompson, who produced the hit Lifetime movie Amish Grace and is behind the network’s talked-about Liz & Dick biopic starring Lindsay Lohan, was more blunt in his reaction: “Merging TV movies and miniseries in any way into one category makes sense only to the producers of the Emmy telecast who want to make room for another musical production number from the cast of Glee or have Ryan Seacrest present a Lifetime Achievement Award to the Kardashian family,” he says. “It is like the Motion Picture Academy merging movies with short films.”
The continuing consolidation “certainly disadvantages the TV movie, which usually has a substantially lower production and marketing budget,” Thompson continues. “And in Hollywood, less money means less everything — less star power, less production values, less promotion, and less respect from the Academy. It would be possible in any one year for an exceptional TV movie to win over a weak offering of miniseries nominations, but not probable. It just ain’t fair.”