The Television Academy, by splitting miniseries and movies for the 2014 contest, has made it easier this year for the made-for-TV movie to compete. Outside of the occasional HBO film, the genre is usually at a disadvantage at the Emmys. Forced to face off directly with the more lavish miniseries form, these two-hour one-offs have had a difficult time holding their own. (Acting, directing and writing categories are still combined for minis/movies). Occasionally a movie comes along that is so irresistible to TV Academy voters that it can’t be ignored. That was the case last year with HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, which swept both Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies. In 2011, another HBO telefilm, Game Change, had similar success against the longform monsters, but it has not always been easy to beat the odds.
With those two wins, TV movies are enjoying a bit of a renaissance—at least at HBO, which once again has the 800-pound gorilla in the race with Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart. The time finally seems right for this drama set in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Written 30 years ago and long in development as a feature film and then TV movie, this provocative and moving study about the human and political consequences of the HIV/AIDS outbreak finally found its way in front of the cameras, thanks in large part to Murphy, who promised the 78-year-old Kramer this movie would happen. In the same year that another decades-in-development-hell drama about the early struggle against AIDS, Dallas Buyers Club, won three Academy Awards—including best and supporting actor statuettes—it seems like kismet-style timing for a Normal Heart Emmy run. The fact that the TV movie still remains relevant and timely enhances the chances of a big win, and its backstory of a long and troubled road to the screen will only help it with voters. Kramer’s well-documented journey with the material should make him a frontrunner in the writing category, and Murphy has a good shot in directing. A superb cast also should score major nominations, including Mark Ruffalo for miniseries/movie lead actor, Julia Roberts (as a polio-stricken doctor) in supporting actress, and a plethora of supporting actors, including Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello (both appeared in the 2011 Broadway revival of the play), Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina and Matt Bomer, who in particular really socks home the role of The New York Times writer who becomes an early victim of the virus. (more…)