If there is an endangered species among programming categories on the Primetime Emmy telecast, it is clearly the now-combined miniseries/made-for-TV movie. With the four major broadcast networks almost completely out of the movie/mini business, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has investigated moves in recent years to downsize the time devoted to longform on the telecast, including shifting it to the less prestigious Creative Arts ceremony a week earlier or even spinning it off as its own separate cable show. Recently, the TV Academy announced it would eliminate the supporting actor and actress category for the 2013 ceremony, the start of a slippery slope as far as movies/minis are concerned. However, for the time being at least, the category is being celebrated at the Primetime Emmys, and nominees in the marquee Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category are a diverse bunch, bringing some big movie names on to the small screen. Here is how their chances stack up:
This haunted-house series from creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk isn’t really a miniseries or movie at all. It’s a hard-to-define weekly show in which the stories will change season to season and the actors will take on different roles. Murphy petitioned the TV Academy to qualify it a miniseries where competition for a nomination was less intense than drama, where it most likely belonged. After all, it even had a clearly labeled pilot, and how many movies or minis have one of those? Nevertheless, the gamble paid off big time, and American Horror Story landed a leading 17 Emmy nominations (tied with Mad Men), triumphing in the wake of its controversial category placement. With that kind of across-the-board Emmy recognition, it has to be considered a major contender to take the trophy–if voters don’t question the strategy that got it here in the first place.
Falling smack dab in the HBO movie tradition of using recent real-life political and social events as fodder for a gripping two-hour film (think Recount and Too Big to Fail), this tale of how Sarah Palin ended up as the vice presidential candidate on the 2008 Republican ticket with John McCain is a faithful and fascinating depiction of events that grew more absurd by the day. With exceptional performances from Woody Harrelson as campaign manager Steve Schmidt, Ed Harris as McCain, and especially Julianne Moore as an uncanny Palin, Game Change has the star power and story that should appeal to voters in big numbers. It might be perceived as more of an actor’s movie than the overall best in show, but with the general liberal tilt of the average Emmy voter, it could have a shot for the top prize in this presidential race season.
With 16 nominations, an Oscar-winning star in Kevin Costner, and being the one nominee in the category that has the true sweep of a miniseries, this period piece about the feuding families might ultimately be the one to take it all. The fact that it was a ratings smash on History–winning the top three spots in the ratings the week it ran–will only help among voters who like rewarding the little guy that could. It brought back the western genre with sweep and style, making it a real contender.
With unanimous praise for its stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in the tempestuous love story of Ernest Hemingway and third wife Martha Gellhorn–under the skillful direction of the acclaimed filmmaker Philip Kaufman coming to TV for the first time–this kind of cinematic offering is normally catnip for TV Academy voters. Mixed critical response for the film, which spans several wars and puts its characters right in the middle of them using real footage, might doom its overall chances, but those 15 nominations are impressive. Still, it is a longshot.
Star Idris Elba scored an Emmy nomination last year (as well as a Golden Globe statuette this year), and now this continuing mini about English police detective John Luther has also made its way into contention. Elba’s strong performance is the mini’s greatest calling card, though as the show itself just doesn’t have enough heat against stiff competition to make the grade here.
Yet another chapter in the popular PBS Masterpiece series that puts Sherlock Holmes and partner John Watson on the streets of 21st-century London where they use their wits to solve crimes the old-fashioned way. The series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in a breakout role is gaining in popularity with each edition, and the British pedigree doesn’t hurt. Still, the lead actor category is where it stands its best shot at actually winning.