Miniseries are coming of age again, at least according to the Television Academy, whose Board of Governors voted this year to once again give it a category of its own. This has been done from time to time depending on the health and general welfare of the miniseries format. For example, in 2011, the TV Academy felt longform television was dying on the vine and that there was just not enough entries to meet its “Rule of 14” (the minimum number of possible contenders needed to trigger a category). The networks were downsizing the form and, outside of the BBC and HBO, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. But now, minis are exploding again and a new golden age seems to be on the horizon.
With minis roaring back on their own—they are still combined with movies in the acting, writing and directing categories—what will the landscape look like when nominees are announced July 10?
Not a Shoo-In
Going into the competition, many pundits thought it was all wrapped up. HBO—which has had a streak of miniseries winners with John Adams, The Pacific, Band of Brothers and Angels in America—looked as though it had another slam dunk with its eight-part True Detective, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It won near-unanimous raves and appeared unbeatable, particularly since, with the mini/movie split, it would not be competing with HBO’s movie juggernaut, The Normal Heart. McConaughey, coming off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club, was being touted by critics as a near-certainty for an Emmy in the mini/movie lead actor category. But to the surprise of many (including McConaughey himself as he told me when I ran into him in Cannes last month), HBO entered True Detective as a drama, upending that race and suddenly creating a large sinkhole in the miniseries contest.
HBO says it always considered Detective an ongoing series (despite the fact that McConaughey and Harrelson will not reprise their roles for season two). Programming president Michael Lombardo defended the decision recently to Deadline. “The project was pitched to us, it was produced by us and marketed by us as a series. Nic (Pizzolatto, the creator) 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,” he said. John Leverence, the TV Academy’s senior vp of awards, agrees. “True Detective really was a kind of slam dunk no-brainer because it had a ‘Created By’ (credit), which we take as the WGA marker for a regular series,” he says. “Per our rules, if you want to jump out of what we think you should be in—like (moving from) drama series to go into miniseries like American Horror Story did a couple of years ago—you have to appeal to the awards committee and make some sort of a case. Well, True Detective did not appeal, and so it was automatically just a drama series.”
Controversy still lingers over the decision, and among those who spoke out was FX chief John Landgraf who defines a miniseries as a “story that ends, and a series as a story that continues”, and he says minis have an unfair advantage in attracting big names whereas many actors who do series sign on for years. Landgraf has The Americans, among others, competing for a prized Drama Series nomination and the entry of True Detective only makes it all that more competitive. Of course FX stirred similar controversy when it chose to enter, and continues to enter, its American Horror Story franchise as a mini. Landgraf defends that decision since AHS has a different story each season with different characters, even though many of the actors are regulars just playing different roles.
The Mini Vogue
With 34 nominations over the past two seasons and four wins, clearly the miniseries label has helped AHS earn so much Emmy love (except the actual best mini/movie mantle). This season’s third edition, Coven, should be a real contender again, particularly with Kathy Bates added to the mix, which also includes Jessica Lange, already an Emmy winner for her work on the series (uh, miniseries). FX will be competing with itself here, though, with its highly publicized mini based on the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning film, Fargo, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman. Apart from the obvious consideration of its quality, the name recognition alone should boost its chances of a nom.
With True Detective out of the mix here, HBO only has Treme to compete, but that’s a bit of a cheat since it really is a cancelled regular series. It’s eligible on a technicality since its fourth season was shortened to five episodes—one shy of qualifying as a series. Suddenly, it’s a mini going for its last hurrah at the Emmys, where it never got much attention anyway.
It might not be a bad strategy. Showtime did the same thing with The Big C’s truncated final season and ended up grabbing the Emmy for lead actress in a miniseries/movie for star Laura Linney last year on her second and final nomination.
Filling the void left by HBO is Starz, aggressively trying to up its game with two entries—The White Queen, a 15th century-set royal costume drama, and Dancing on the Edge, about a black jazz musician caught up in the aristocratic world of 1930s London. Chiwetel Ejiofor, a recent Oscar nominee for 12 Years a Slave, was a Globe nominee for Edge and should grab his first Emmy nom, too. Costar Jacqueline Bisset won her first Golden Globe for her role in this mini and might be ripe as well. Let’s hope so. Her loony Globe acceptance speech was one of the undisputed highlights of that show.
Lifetime will compete here with a four-hour mini version of Bonnie and Clyde, which also was simulcast on A&E and History (the latter having been nominated here the previous two years for Hatfields & McCoys and The Bible).The mini starred Emile Hirsch and was the work of Oscars producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who also have NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! entered in the special class programming category.
Speaking of the traditional broadcast nets, which had virtually abandoned miniseries but now seem to be interested in the format again, NBC has its four-hour adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, while CBS might try to convince Emmy voters that Under the Dome and Hostages really were minis disguised as regular series.
The BBC again will compete with Luther, which earned lead actor nominations in 2011 and 2012 for star Idris Elba and itself was a nominee in 2012. The Brits have yet another shot with the Ian Fleming bio mini, Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond. And PBS will be carrying the British flag for the impressive Shakespearean experiment, The Hollow Crown, starring Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Ben Whishaw.
IFC has the epic and soapy, but well-publicized, The Spoils of Babylon, starring Tobey Maguire and Kristen Wiig. Frank Darabont’s post-Walking Dead effort, Mob City—about gangster Mickey Cohen—will rally for TNT. And Ovation offers the Daniel Radcliffe/Jon Hamm starring medical mini, Young Doctor’s Notebook, while Discovery has its Gold Rush tale, Klondike. DirecTV is in the game, too, with its Neil LaBute drama, Full Circle, which initially was advertised as a DirectTV Original Series and ran for 10 episodes.
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