The Aftermath Of The Emmy Top Longform Category Merger: Who Wins, Who Loses?

For 34 years running, miniseries have been holding the record for most Emmy wins by a program in a single year: first Roots, then Angels in America, followed by current record holder John Adams. Now, following last night’s vote by the TV Academy, the storied TV genre will no longer have its own best program category as it is merging with best TV movie. The combined best TV movie/miniseries field is being expanded to 6 nominees.

There was no outcry today from producers and cable networks that make miniseries. Gary Goetzman from one of the biggest players in the genre, Playtone, which produced 3 Emmy winners for best miniseries, Band of Brothers, John Adams and The Pacific, took the news in stride. “I think they should merge all categories into one, best program of the year,” he quipped. “Just name the winner and we can all go and hit the bar.”

The board of the TV Academy was acting within its rulebook, which triggered the category consolidation because of the lack of qualifying minis in the past 2 years that led to only 2 getting nominated in the top category in both 2009 and 2010. Ironically, 2011 is shaping up to be stronger for miniseries than the last 2 years with 3 solid contenders: HBO’s Mildred Pierce, Sundance Channel’s co-production Carlos and Starz’s acquisition Pillars of the Earth.

So who are the winners and losers from the folding of the best miniseries category into best TV movie? The merger is certainly great news for the broadcast networks, which largely got out of the longform business and have been complaining about having to carry a ceremony in which there are so many longform categories dominated by cable programs.

While HBO, the biggest producer of Emmy-caliber longform product, will be hurt by the consolidation, the impact may only be limited to the final Emmy stage. Yes, HBO’s overall Emmy Awards tally will take a dent with one vs. two top longform categories in which the network dominates. For instance, if the best movie and miniseries categories were still separate, HBO would’ve had leading contenders in both this year: Mildred Piece for mini and Cinema Verite and Too Big to Fail for movie. Now the 3 will compete against each other. But in terms of overall nominations, HBO probably won’t be impacted. With 6 slots availabe, all of its top-tier movies and minis will probably make the cut.

PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre may be affected a little but those British costume dramas always score with Emmy voters. The ones that will be really hurt by the merging of the two longform categories will be the smaller cable channels that make TV movies, like Lifetime and Hallmark, as well as broadcaster CBS, which occasionally land best TV movie nominees. Last year, Lifetime’s Georgia O’Keeffe and History’s docu-drama Moonshot made the list for best TV movie alongside HBO’s Temple Grandin and You Don’t Know Jack and Masterpiece’s Endgame. Those smaller players will now probably be shut out of the top category altogether.

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