This year’s 65th Primetime Emmy Awards were supposed to introduce a smaller longform field after the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences last year voted to consolidate the Best Lead and Supporting actor and actress categories for miniseries and TV movies, reducing the total number of longform acting categories from four to two starting with the 2013 Emmys. But tonight, the TV Academy Board voted to reverse the consolidation, reinstating the longform lead and supporting categories in this year’s competition. The TV Academy cited “the unanticipated resurgence of television miniseries and movies” for its decision to keep the existing number of longform categories. The backtracking is surprising since reducing the those categories was the first major Emmy rule change under TV Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum.
The consolidation decision had been driven mainly by the dwindling pool of longform programming on TV, especially miniseries, which led to the merging of the best TV movie and miniseries categories in 2011 following two consecutive years of only two best miniseries nominees. But miniseries/limited series have enjoyed a resurgence in the past couple of years, ranking as the most watched cable entertainment telecasts of 2012 (History’s Hatfields & McCoys) and ever (2013 (History’s The Bible). The field also was joined by such hits as Downton Abbey, which started off in the longform category before moving to drama series, and FX’s anthology American Horror Story. And with Fox and FX making a major push in limited-event series, there will be even more contenders joining traditional longorm Emmy frontrunner HBO, which just saw its original movie Behind The Candelabra selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. While the consolidation of the longform acting categories is being nixed, the best longform category (movie/miniseries) remains combined.
The decisions for consolidating the longform categories had been done under pressure from 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 reluctant to pay for an Emmy telecast, a substantial portion of which is dedicated to long-form categories. The issue was a major sticking point in the most recent renegotiations between the TV Academy and the big four broadcast networks in 2011, which ultimately resulted in a new eight-year “wheel” deal with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. The broadcasters likely won’t be too happy about tonight’s reversal though there are signs that longform programming may be trickling back onto their schedule, like Fox’s new commitment to limited series and NBC’s greenlight for a staging of The Sound Of Music. Plus, one of their main arguments was that the longform categories showcased cable/PBS programs that few viewers have watched, thus contributing to the telecast’s ratings decline. That can’t be said about blockbusters like Hatfields & McCoys, The Bible, Downton Abbey and American Horror Story.
Meanwhile, cable networks like HBO, Lifetime and History, which have been keeping the longform genre alive, are certainly popping the champagne tonight as they were going to see their opportunities for acting nominations and wins cut by two this year. Lifetime has been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed changes. “Movies and miniseries represent some of television’s finest programming and it is our firm belief the industry should honor each category separately,” the network’s EVP Programming Rob Sharenow said when the consolidation was announced last year.