Can The Miniseries Emmy Field Be Brought Back From The Brink Of Extinction?

History’s The Kennedys and Starz’s The Pillars of the Earth can’t come soon enough. The miniseries form has been on life-support in the past couple of years, with only one U.S. network, HBO, making consistent efforts in the arena. As a result, the nomination field for best miniseries has developed a familiar pattern in the past two years: only two spots on the nomination ballot: one for HBO’s mini of the year and one for a British import broadcast as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series. Last year, it was PBS’ Little Dorrit and HBO’s Generation Kill. Little Dorrit won. This year, it’s HBO’s war extravaganza The Pacific and PBS’ Return to Cranford. With its leading 24 Emmy nominations, The Pacific looks destined to win, following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Band of Brothers. But with the series field brimming with strong contenders to a point that the top categories were expended from 5 to 6 slots last year, it is sad to see the mini-series category teetering on the brink of viability with two nominees. There had been talk about possibly merging the TV movie and mini-series categories but longform, which hails back to the early days of TV, has a strong lobby at the TV Academy, with purist arguing against mixing what they consider two very different forms. So, just like the plan for pre-taping most of the long-form Emmy categories was squashed last summer, the dwindling miniseries field is getting spared, at least for now. And there are some promising signs on the horizon. AMC, which got into the genre with the Emmy-winning Broken Trail, aired another mini, The Prisoner, earlier this past year and continues to develop mini-series projects, including Black Gold: The Teapot Dome Scandal, with John Adams writer Kirk Ellis. A&E is developing a Western mini with Kevin Costner. USA Network too has been looking for a followup to its hit mini The Starter Wife. ABC has mini Ben Hur on tap for late 2009 premiere. And, in its first foray into scripted programming, History is filming The Kennedys, an eight-hour saga starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes. Under Chris Albrecht, who once steered HBO into the mini-series arena, Starz acquired the big-budget mini The Pillars of the Earth and indicated that he plans to do a lot in the event programming field. That will hopefully bring life into the best miniseries category next year, which has already a frontrunner: Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet.

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