More than a week after HBO announced that its buzzy True Detective will compete as a drama series at the Emmys, shaking up the drama race as a potential frontrunner, the decision is still a hot topic of conversation, with pundits debating whether the eight-episode series, created by Nic Pizzolatto and starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, belongs in the drama or miniseries category. The latest to weigh in was Mad Men creator Matt Weiner. “I was surprised they did it but I bet that everyone who is in that Drama category said ‘oh s***’,” he told Deadline‘s Pete Hammond. “That makes me think HBO did the right thing.”
HBO had not commented on its Emmy category choice for True Detective until now. Here is what the network’s programming president Michael Lombardo had to say about it. “This project was pitched to us, it was produced by us and marketed by us as a series. Nic never thought of this as a miniseries, and we always treated him as a creator of a series. In our minds this is a series, and the only reason to enter it as a miniseries was a cynical reason that didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
Ironically, HBO is one of the top players in the miniseries business, bursting into the space with the epic 1998 mini From The Earth To The Moon. Since then, the pay cable network had won seven of the 13 best miniseries Emmys until the category was (temporarily) merged with best TV movie in 2011. Until the merger, there had been little ambiguity about what constitutes a miniseries (though Showtime’s cancelled series Sleeper Cell snuck in as a mini, earning a best miniseries Emmy nom). But then in 2011, the first season of Downton Abbey was submitted as a miniseries and dominated the longform categories before switching to drama series the next year. A year later, FX’s anthology series American Horror Story opted to compete as a miniseries and has been leading the list of Emmy nominees for the last two years. It is likely because of the AHS precedent that many expected True Detective — which also has an anthology format with different stories, characters and actors (AHS had been using a core group of actors in multiple seasons) — to enter into the far less crowded miniseries space where HBO doesn’t have another entry this year. (HBO’s next miniseries, Olive Kitteridge, premieres in the fall.) But, while there had been a lengthy outside debate whether True Detective, which is yet to be formally picked up for a second season, should compete as a drama series or a mini, internally, the discussion was pretty brief.
“I had a conversation with the executive producers whether we wanted to be in a possibly less competitive category if you treat this as a mini, but we never seriously considered doing so,” Lombardo said. “Everyone wants to win awards, I understand that we are competing in the most competitive area, drama series, but it felt like the wrong reason to put it in a different category.” In cases of what the TV Academy calls “dual eligibility”, like AHS and True Detective, if the TV Academy establishes that a program is eligible for placement in two categories, they defer to the producers to make the call what category to enter, which is what happened with AHS, according to the Academy’s John Leverence.
HBO and the True Detective producers just made their call. And despite facing an uphill Emmy battle against drama heavyweights, Lombardo said everyone is at peace with the decision. “It will be disappointing if the show, the actors, the writer and director are not nominated, but I don’t think there will be any second guessing. This is it.”