For the next several days I will be handicapping Emmy categories just as final voting is going on. Today we start with Outstanding Limited Series. With the former “Miniseries” category now reclassified as “Limited Series,” it automatically seems to widen the potential field of competitors, since minis, in their most pure definition, were harder to come by. But now with such ongoing multi-season limiteds as FX’s American Horror Story and ABC’s new American Crime — which recently was renewed for a second season — the line between what constitutes a drama series from a limited series is becoming even more gray.
Part of the definition of the latter is that the show has a single storyline each season and a cast taking on different roles than previously. Got it? OK. But this always has been confusing. In its first year, Downton Abbey won in this category but the next season was reclassified as a regular drama series. In some cases, like with this year’s HBO entry, Olive Kitteridge, we have what is essentially a two-part, four-hour movie competing against such shows as AHS: Freak Show, which appeared weekly. Is it fair? Voters will have to decide what truly is limited.
Here’s how I see this race shaking out.
American Crime, ABC
It was a major coup for ABC to land brand new 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley for this piercing and timely TV show, which in its first time at bat won rave reviews for its story centered on the effects of a home invasion murder of a California war veteran. It received 10 Emmy nominations and represents an effort by a major broadcast network to try and compete in the same arena that cable claimed largely for itself in recent years. The power of the writing and acting might mean ABC can save some level of dignity for the four major networks, which were AWOL in drama series and could use a prestige win like this one.
Ever since this series debuted four seasons ago, it has been a strong contender in the category, but has yet to win. Producer Ryan Murphy lobbied the TV Academy that first year to be included here rather than in the drama series race and the decision in his favor has resulted in almost permanent residence in this category. This fourth-season edition, Freak Show, revolved around the struggles of one of the last remaining tent attractions of its kind and, as always, featured a stellar cast. But the show was not considered this series’ finest hour and drew mixed critical notices. Still, it won 19 nominations, the second biggest total of any program in any category this year, so don’t count it out.
The Honorable Woman, SundanceTV
This eight-part British spy series came from the BBC, which gives it good Emmy cred right there. The Academy loves this kind of thing and it already scored at the Golden Globes when star Maggie Gyllenhaal won the Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie award. The series itself also recently received the prestigious Peabody Award. Reviews were strong and the show received four Emmy nominations overall, the lowest number of any contender by far in the category. However, they came in the all-important directing, writing and lead actress races in addition to this one, so it could be a dark horse.
Olive Kitteridge, HBO
HBO usually dominated in these categories but in Limited Series Olive Kitteridge represents its only shot this year (it has three of the six nominees in TV Movie, though). But with a whopping 13 nominations overall, Olive Kitteridge has the third-highest total of any program this year and has landed mentions in every conceivable important category, making it the one to beat. With such film stars as Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray on board, you can bet voters will pay attention, just as the Broadcast TV Critics, DGA and SAG already did in awarding this series about the problems of a retired schoolteacher living in a small-town in Maine.
Wolf Hall, PBS
If anything has a chance to upset frontrunner Olive Kitteridge it is likely to be this highly prestigious production, a six-part British historical drama dealing with over 100 characters, led by King Henry VIII and his loyal confidant Thomas Cromwell. Emmy showered eight nominations on the production, which separately wowed on Broadway, winning numerous Tony nominations for a different take on the same material culled from Hilary Mantel’s twin novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. And remember, Emmy voters are notoriously suckers for anything with a British accent.
The Winner: Olive Kitteridge