Once a staple with numerous and memorable Emmy-winning movies to tout, such as That Certain Summer, The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman and other landmark films, the Outstanding Television Movie category — which now stands on its own apart from Mini/Limited Series —seems awfully hard to fill. I mean, has anyone actually heard of Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case? Or even the network it ran on, Acorn TV? If it weren’t for HBO, this would be a very thin field indeed, but that monster net has three of the six nominees to keep its dominance over TV movies going. The broadcast networks long ago gave up this area to the newbies, and there isn’t anything resembling the kind of movie they used to make here.
But the real shocker among this bunch has to be the vilified 2014 Cannes Film Festival opening-night movie, Grace Of Monaco. Considered so bad it didn’t even get a U.S. theatrical release and was finally picked up by Lifetime, the Nicole Kidman-starrer’s Emmy nomination was never in the cards. So can it win? Here’s my analysis.
Agatha Christie’s Poiroit: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case, Acorn TV
I think this title scored in a very thin field because of its Agatha Christie mention, which got it listed near the top of the alphabetical ballot. This British TV drama aired on ITV from 1989-2013 and included every Christie work. Curtain is the final entry and somehow found itself landing on American TV thru Acorn, a British company that started releasing these films on DVD and later graduated to a full-fledged streaming service, following in the steps of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu that have found their way into a crowded Emmy race. This represents Acorn TV’s one and only Emmy nom this year. A win would be out of the blue and a shocker.
On the polar opposite side of the TV movie nominees is this stirring biopic of the late, great blues singer Bessie Smith. With an imposing 12 nominations, this well-regarded film has a real shot at the prize. A lot here rests on the shoulders of star and producer Queen Latifah, who really brought this to life, both behind and in front of the scenes over the film’s 20-year gestation. I’m guessing it is the frontrunner here.
Grace Of Monaco, Lifetime
Easily one of the most unusual nominations ever in the category, this film is one version of the splashy 2014 Cannes Film Festival opener, which quickly crashed and burned after its debut. The Weinstein Company didn’t even give it a theatrical release, instead selling it off to cable TV and Lifetime. I am happy about this nomination. I actually voted for it. It was unfairly maligned in Cannes and, if anything, its star Nicole Kidman—perfectly channeling the insecurities and vulnerability of Grace Kelly—deserved an Emmy nomination she didn’t get. A win for TV movie, though, would be one of the biggest upsets in Emmy history.
Hello Ladies: The Movie, HBO
Yet another cheat in the category, this was a short-lived HBO series, which qualified here as a “movie” because the half-season comedy ended with a full-length closer. This very British show is based on comedian Stephen Merchant’s own stand-up routines about looking for love in L.A., and, quite frankly it doesn’t really stand up to the standards of HBO. No wonder it was cancelled. But apparently it does meet the standards of Emmy TV movie nominees, especially when it isn’t all that competitive a race.
Killing Jesus, National Geographic
Somehow this four-hour “miniseries” actually qualified as a TV movie despite the fact that the four-hour “miniseries” Olive Kitteridge is in the Limited Series category. Go figure. At any rate this show, based on the exploitational novel by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, apparently impressed Emmy voters enough to give it a go here. Or maybe, on the other hand, it is just fodder for ratings. This film has religious themes and built-in promotion for Bible-belters who lap this kind of thing up no matter how poorly reviewed it was.
The third HBO entry in the category might be a tough one for some of the older, more reliable voters to get through. This movie, about a vet trying to adjust to a post-war life, actually was intended as a theatrical release—it played the Los Angeles Film Festival over a year ago. But with star David Oyelowo getting such high-profile publicity for not receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, an Emmy play would seem inevitable. However, the movie’s two nominations—Oyelowo also got one in acting—represent the sole noms Television Academy voters gave Nightingale, making its ultimate victory a longest of long shots.
The Winner: Bessie