EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview

Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.

The movie/mini grouping is a diverse collection that has a bit of an apples-and-oranges feel. That’s certainly been the case since the TV Academy voted to combine the made-for-TV movie and miniseries categories into one two years ago. It resulted in wins for PBS’ Downton Abbey two years ago and the HBO docudrama Game Change in 2012. This time, only two actual movies made the nomination cut: The HBO biopics Behind The Candelabra and Phil Spector. The other four are miniseries, including FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum along with Sundance Channel’s Top Of The Lake, History’s entry The Bible and USA Network’s soapy Political Animals. The Liberace pic Candelabra has to be seen as the overwhelming favorite.


If any project stands a chance to derail Behind The Candelabra, it’s this one, due in large part to its graphic horror presentation, eye-popping effects and acting work that resulted in four performers getting nominated. People who work in television also tend to relate to tales of insane asylums.

There remains some question over whether American Horror Story should even be in this category, seeming more like a regular series than a true mini. And horror remains a niche that rarely wins a top prize.


It has all of the intangibles, as well as tangibles, that make for Emmy-night dominance, including movie stars (Michael Douglas, Matt Damon) and a high-profile director (Steven Soderbergh). Critics were also fairly universal in their praise. A potential category sweep (film, actor, writer, director) looms.

Upsets happen, and some who watched Candelabra found it too much like caricature in its portrayal of the piano showman and his relationship with a younger, impressionable man.


The reason this project has a shot is that one can never underestimate the reach and impact of religious-themed programming, nor the ability of co-executive producer Mark Burnett to drum up votes through sheer force of will.

It’s difficult to foresee the TV Academy giving more than a nomination to a Bible saga, even one with top-notch production values. Programming with spiritual themes rarely gets awards.


Political Animals earned solid praise for being smart and savvy, while generating Emmy-nominated work from lead Sigourney Weaver and supporting player Ellen Burstyn. The project had an energy that was hard to ignore.

The limited-run series didn’t generate nearly enough buzz when it aired and was, frankly, something of a surprise nominee. If voters go for a mini, it will be one with greater cachet.


Al Pacino gave a mesmerizing performance in the lead as the pathetic train wreck that is Phil Spector in this otherwise pedestrian biopic. Upsets like this have happened before, however.

It was a clunky film that was fortunate even to be nominated, despite David Mamet’s being recognized for his writing and direction. Those noms were bestowed based on reputation rather than merit. It’s also tough to honor a project whose lead has so many bad hair days.


The fact this mystery mini was crafted in the stable of Oscar winner Jane Campion (The Piano) lends it an air of quality and integrity, as does the involvement of fellow Oscar winner Holly Hunter. It also has the sort of languid pacing that gives it an epic feel.

Lake received mixed reviews, with many finding it meandering and self-involved. Sundance also isn’t HBO in terms of Emmy pedigree. Not even close. It’s frankly doubtful that most voters will even make it to the end of the screener.

  1. Not that I’m debating the name recognition disparity between Sundance and HBO or Top of the Lake’s questionable chances in this category, but I seemed to remember that it was pretty much raved-about across the board?

    Checked Metacritic out of curiosity – it’s sitting at a 86, with 26 favorable/1 mixed review. Checked RT as well – it’s at a whopping 92. “Mixed reviews”, huh.

  2. In what world did Top of the Lake get mixed reviews? It scored an 86 on Metacritic which is the highest score out of all these nominees. S

  3. Mixed reviews my ass. Your personal opinion doesn’t affect the practically universal acclaim the film received.

    My predictions on how each film will rank come voting time:
    1. Behind the Candelabra
    3. Top of the Lake
    3. American Horror Story: Asylum
    4. Political Animals
    5. The Bible
    6. Phil Spector

  4. “Meandering and self-involved”? How does a miniseries qualify as “self-involved”? This seems like your opinion, thinly disguised as “some people thought it was…”

  5. Am I the only one out there who thinks Behind the Candelabra was a nasty piece of work and that Michael Douglas was embarrassingly horrible in it? Actually, I don’t know anybody who thought it was good other than the people who vote on awards.

  6. This is the worst of the Deadline Emmy analyses – I usually agree, but for whatever reason, you are in the tank for Candelabra. Matt Damon was totally miscast as the 18-25 year old kid but didn’t crash completely because he’s a great actor. Michael Douglas was amazing, but the movie was just okay, like many Soderbergh films, flat or merely interesting where it should be far more entertaining.

    Top of the Lake was by far – by far – the superior entry this year, and anyone who bothered to “make it through the screener” would see that. I know it has flashier competitors but I’m hoping Elisabeth Moss will help it pull through.

  7. CLEARLY American Horror Story should not be in this category. Totally ridiculous to put AHS in the same category as Behind the Candelabra or Top of the Lake; no comparison to the quality of the latter two.

  8. American Horror Story is a recurring series of 13 episodes each season. Only in America @ the Emmy awards is that a ‘movie or mini-series’. Even if you pretend each season’s subtitle distinguishes it you still have a so-called ‘mini-series’ with more episodes than Boardwalk Empire which gets nominated in the ‘full series’ category.

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