EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview

Game Change  is more than just the name of the polarizing HBO picture that’s the frontrunner to take home the 2012 Emmy in the now-merged movie/miniseries category, it’s also the underlying theme of the whole race.

Boardwalk EmpireUntil last year when PBS’ Downton Abbey pulled off an upset, HBO projects had taken the gold for nearly a decade. Suddenly, it seemed like anything could happen — and, suddenly, it did. Downton’s move to the drama series category makes the movie/mini derby an HBO-vs.-PBS free-for-all.

Thanks to Game Change — as well as the marquee value of Hemingway & Gellhorn — the cable network would appear to have the edge. But there’s a growing sentiment that no potential nominee or winner is more deserving than PBS’ Sherlock. For now, however, whether that stellar underdog will score a nod, much less a win, remains a mystery. Another potential spoiler: FX’s rookie anthology American Horror Story. And with its record-shattering ratings, along with A-level stars in Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, History’s Hatfields & McCoys solidified its Emmy chances.

Related: EMMYS: AwardsLine’s Pre-Nom Profiles

Here’s our assessment of the chances for this year’s made for television movies and miniseries (in alphabetical order) and their stars:

It has been suggested that Ryan Murphy’s kinky FX chiller should be competing as a drama series (like Downton Abbey this year), not a mini-series (like Downton Abbey last year). But the anthological nature of the spookfest suggests that it is, in fact, right where it belongs. In any case, in this less crowded category, it’s much likelier to be recognized with a nod. Ordinarily, prior nominees Dylan McDermott (a contender for The Practice in 1999) and Connie Britton (up twice for Friday Night Lights) would stand a great chance of being acknowledged as well. But the general consensus is that, if any cast member is going to be singled out, it’s going to be scene-stealing Jessica Lange (herself a three-time nominee and a winner in 2009 for Grey Gardens, to say nothing of her Golden Globe and SAG Awards for American Horror Story).

Related: EMMYS: Jessica Lange On ‘American Horror Story’

HBO’s adaptation of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book about the 2008 presidential election campaign wasn’t just the movie that had everyone — critics and viewers alike — talking this year, it was the movie that had everyone applauding. That is, with the possible exception of would-be veep Sarah Palin, played here by Julianne Moore with such uncanny precision — and at times discomfiting empathy — that she’s a shoo-in for a nomination, if not a win. (Who knew anyone could out-Palin Tina Fey?) Besides its leading lady, the movie itself is a lock for a nod, as are its director, Jay Roach (who won two Emmys in 2008 for another political HBO movie, Recount), and co-star Woody Harrelson (a six-time Emmy nominee and a victor for Cheers back in 1989).

Related: EMMYS: Julianne Moore On ‘Game Change’

As gloriously bleak as PBS’ adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic was, it flew mainly under the radar — with one notable exception: its Miss Havisham, Gillian Anderson. She was widely considered to be too young to play the infamously horrific crone. But, given Emmy’s long love affair with the actress — she’s been nominated five times and won in 1997 for The X-Files — it would be a mistake to count her out.

History was poised to make a name for itself in the scripted television realm with last year’s controversial The Kennedys … until that mini ended up premiering on ReelzChannel instead (It went on to receive 10 Emmy nominations and win in four categories). Now, with its star-studded dramatization of the itchy-trigger-fingered families’ feud, History is making another grab for the brass ring — and for a certain golden statuette. Besides the mini itselfCostner as ‘Devil’ Anse Hatfield and Paxton as Randall McCoy look pretty good for nominations. So does Powers Boothe — an Emmy winner more than 30 years ago for Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. The three-night miniseries no doubt vastly improved its chances by shattering the record for the highest rated entertainment telecast ever for an ad-supported cable network with 14.3 million viewers in its third installment, and 13.9 million and 13.1 million respectively for its second and first nights.

Related: EMMYS: Kevin Costner On ‘Hatfields & McCoys’

Perhaps no movie or mini-series in the running this year is blessed with more name-in-lights allure than HBO’s World War II-set drama about the roller-coaster romance of author Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. So it’s all but unthinkable that the stars who give the film its star power — Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman — won’t be nominated (If she wasn’t going to be up against Julianne Moore for Game Change, Kidman might even stand a chance of winning, going all Meryl Streep as she does with the husky voice and non-accent). Director Philip Kaufman — a star in his own right — is another safe bet. And don’t be surprised if supporting player Robert Duvall sneaks into the races: He’s received nods four times as an actor (and five overall) and emerged victorious in 2007 for Broken Trail.

Related: EMMYS: Nicole Kidman On ‘Hemingway And Gellhorn’

BBC America’s Cold War-era drama scored not only as a nail-biter but also as a pitch-perfect period piece on par with the likes of Mad Men. In addition, it’s coming off three Golden Globe nominations. So, to put it mildly, it’s looking good for an Emmy nod or two, in particular for its male lead, Wire alum Dominic West as the smoothest operator this side of Don Draper.

Though it hasn’t sparked the kind of hoopla that other British TV projects have (think: Downton Abbey), this dark crime drama did earn its leading man, Idris Elba, a nod following its first go-’round last year. And, coming off a Golden Globe win this year, at very least he seems like a safe bet to receive another Emmy nomination.

Most of the attention that PBS’ spy yarn has received thus far has been focused on its star, Bill Nighy — a Golden Globe nominee for his portrayal of an MI5 agent whose discovery of a cover-up paints a target on his back. However, writer-director David Hare should be considered a contender as well, not only because of the quality of the film but also because it marks his first feature-length directorial effort since 1997’s The Designated Mourner.

Were the Emmys only about quality and not politics, star wattage and network muscle, a win for PBS’ superlative detective update would be … well, elementary. On every level — writing, directing, acting — the episode submitted for consideration (the first of Season 2, “A Scandal in Belgravia”) is triumphant. At the very least, it — and its Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch — should receive a nomination (Last year, the show’s only major nod was for writing).

Related: EMMYS: Benedict Cumberbatch On ‘Sherlock’

If ABC has a sinking feeling about this effort’s Emmy prospects, it could be because there were more passengers aboard the ill-fated behemoth than watched this depiction of its fateful journey. Its only potential lifeline? The man at the helm, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who bagged two statuettes last year, one in this category and one for writing for a miniseries, movie or special.


Appropriate Adult (Sundance Channel)
Case Histories (PBS)
Five (Lifetime)
Moby Dick (Encore)
Neverland (Syfy)
Scott Turow’s ‘Innocent’ (TNT)
The Song of Lunch (PBS)
The Space Between (USA)

Long Shots/No Shots

Bag of Bones (A&E)
Birdsong (PBS)
Certain Prey (USA)
Drew Peterson Untouchable (Lifetime)
Firelight (ABC)
Have a Little Faith (ABC)
Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story (Lifetime)
A Smile as Big as the Moon (ABC)
Treasure Island (Syfy)

    1. What Sherlock is NOT is a mini-series. It is an on-going series, and season two of it consisted of three episodes that stand independent of each other. The way the Emmys treat the mini-series category is a complete joke.

      1. The problem is how would you put Sherlock with other series…Sherlock has three episodes a series, while most in the drama category have anywhere from 10-22. Sherlock is not a typical series, and besides–American Horror Story is less of a miniseries than Sherlock is.

  1. The casting on ‘Game Change’ is what made it so good. Julianne Moore as Palin – perfect. Scary good. Ed Harris was a great McCain and Woody Harrelson gave another layered performance as the campaign manager – that guy’s got real acting chops. Who’d of thought he had it in him when he started out…

  2. Frankly, I don’t care whether Sherlock is nominated as a series or as a mini-series, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that the show — and Benedict Cumberbatch — rightly deserve an Emmy … not just an Emmy nomination, but an Emmy. Period. This show and its lead actor are compelling, and I cannot be grateful enough to its production team for bringing such a wonderful show to the small screen.

    1. If Ben Cumberbun and Sherlock is so amazing, then it should compete and win in the drama category, not movies & mini-series. The fawning over this series is baffling to me– you do realize its just the same old Arthur Conan Doyle stories and characters– just given a USA network “characters welcome” humor polish and set in the present?

  3. Admit it – you just love saying the name Benedict Cumberbatch. hey I love saying it too!

  4. Luther, Sherlock, and American Horror Story are SERIES with multiple seasons and short orders. When will the Academy close this bs abuse of the category, with series that know they can’t win in the drama category pretending to be a singular story? American Horror Story is no more a movie or miniseries than the Twilight Zone or Night Gallery.

    I’d rather some craptastic Hallmark Channel or Lifetime movie be nominated than Ongoing series with multiple seasons PRETENDING to be Roots or Shogun or Human Trafficking.

    1. While I agree with you on Luther and Sherlock, American Horror Story is a mini series. Each season the characters and setting will be changing (many of the actors are returning but they have totally different roles). Just because it will all have the same series name doesn’t mean it is a continuous storyline.

  5. For me, it’s either “Hatfield & McCoys” or “Sherlock”.

    Both were exquisite. Would be happy either way.

    If you guys haven’t seen “Luther” (available on Netflix streaming) do yourself a favor and watch it, it is extremely good as well.

  6. We Brits embarrass the Americans with our riches of miniseries as per!

    Luther is amazing. The storytelling is ambitious bordering on epic. It refuses to think small. It deserves to storm the Emmys but I’d take a nomination for Idris. The only thing lacking in the second series was Alice.

    I also think it would be a crime not to nominate Jason Isaacs for Case Histories. It had an amazing first two-parter and the following two were a bit more uneven (as were the books they were based on) but he was simply unbeatable throughout.

  7. You could have a British Actor read a DVR instruction manual on PBS and it would get an Emmy nomination. Self-loathing American critics stand in awe of anything with the King’s English– Colin Firth could sit on the toilet, wear a fright wig, and sing bawdy show tunes and it would be hailed as a “masterpiece.” I liked Luther when Andre Braugher did the same exact schtick in “Homicide.”

    In the meantime, if you want an amazing American performance, I’m surprised no one mentioned Tom Berenger in Hatfields and McCoys. It’s probably the best he’s been since literally Platoon, and he’s unrecognizable in the role.

  8. I don’t care if he wins, just give an Emmy nomination for Benedict Cumberbatch. Well deserved.

  9. Don’t you just want to hear the presenter say “Benedict Cumberbatch” during the ceremony?! That would be dope.

  10. I don’t think The Hour will get a nod.The casts are perfect,the details from the scene to the costume are precious enough to be an idol as the 60s style.But the story and the subject,for god sake,is rough-and-tumble.This show just wastes such talented actors’talent,they even didn’t get the chance to show it in this show.But I still think Anna Chancellor could get a supporting actress nod.

  11. I am very disappointed, that Sherlock didn’t get any Emmy awards. How could that be? I guess this award only goes to an American shows (with few exceptions). It’s not fair.

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