Tuesday, September 8, 2015

2015 Emmy Nominations: Limited Series/Movie, Behind-the-Scenes

This year, the former miniseries/TV movie categories come with a new twist. Instead of having a combined category as has been the case the past few years, it has been split up, allowing made-for-television films to compete separately from what are now being branded "limited series." Of course, this distinction includes both traditional miniseries and season-long anthology series such as American Horror Story, which are becoming more and more popular (I'll have a more in-depth essay about this up later this month). And it's not a perfect system, either: American Crime submitted as a limited series, since it will tell a different story every season, but Secrets & Lies - which will do the same thing - submitted as a drama series. Similarly, one-and-done series that were built to look like limited series but with the potential to go on and on like Gracepoint and The Slap went to limited series, suggesting that this category could grow to become a crutch for cancelled shows. Isn't awards-show politicking fun?

With that out of the way, on to the nominees.


American Crime
American Horror Story: Freak Show
The Honorable Woman
Olive Kitteridge
Wolf Hall

American Horror Story: Freak Show

Overview: So here are your nominees for the inaugural Best Limited Series category. Naturally, American Horror Story: Freak Show led all limited series in total nominations with 19, but both Olive Kitteridge (13) and American Crime (10) scored in the double-digits as well. American Crime also brings one of the Alphabet networks - ABC - into the fold, meaning that with the iron grip that cable and streaming is holding on the comedy and drama categories, this could be the outlet those networks need to get noticed by the Academy.

Biggest surprise: There was some concern - silly in retrospect, but it made sense at the time - that Lisa Cholodenko's lovely adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's novel Olive Kitteridge - would fail to make the cut, having been relatively low-key and premiering late last year. Those concerns were unwarranted, obviously, but it seemed possible.

Most notable exclusion: HBO put a lot of effort into promoting The Casual Vacancy, based on J.K. Rowling's non-Harry Potter novel. However, the series perhaps just wasn't well-received enough; most of the reviews were kind but not ecstatic.

Who's likely to win? Believe it or not, Olive Kitteridge seems like the frontrunner now. The support for the series has been growing, and it fits the more traditional idea of what a limited-run series is (I'm not convinced that everyone in the Academy is completely sold on the anthology model just yet).

But watch out for... American Crime. The show turned out to be a major critical success, with many of its champions praising the way it handled the very delicate topic of race. It could sneak in for the win.


Agatha Christie's Poirot: Curtain, Poirot's Last Case
Grace of Monaco
Hello Ladies: The Movie
Killing Jesus


Overview: What an interesting fate Grace of Monaco has had. It premiered at Cannes as the opening night film last year, with it's eyes firmly set on Oscar attention. Then came the infamous Cannes boos and the savage reviews, as well as very public feuding between director Olivier Dahan and Harvey Weinstein, and suddenly the film found itself missing Oscar season and landing on Lifetime in late May. It's joined by three HBO films (Bessie, Hello Ladies: The Movie, and Nightingale), National Geographic's continued love affair with Bill O'Reilly's "history" books (Killing Jesus), and British network Acorn TV's Agatha Christie's Poirot: Curtain, Poirot's Last Case.

Biggest surprise: Honestly, I can't find very much about Acorn TV, other than it's a British media company that publishes and manufactures DVD sets of British television, as well as operating a streaming service called Acorn.TV. They somehow managed to get a nomination for their Hercule Poirot film starring David Suchet, the 70th and last in a long line of Poirot films dating back to 1989. It is the film's only nomination. This is very weird indeed.

Most notable exclusion: You mean other than Sharknado 2: The Second One? I'm being a little shit, of course, but given the Academy's love of Ricky Gervais, I'm surprised that Derek Special didn't make the cut (while Stephen Merchant's Hello Ladies: The Movie, the cap to a show they really didn't care about, did; the world just keeps getting stranger).

Who's likely to win? Bessie, without question. The biopic of groundbreaking blues singer Bessie Smith, played by Queen Latifah, has been raved about ever since it premiered in May. It also leads all television movies in total nominations, raking in 12.

But watch out for... Nightingale. The HBO film, which is essentially a one-man show anchored by David Oyelowo, has also been much-talked about and much-loved. It probably doesn't have the same level of acclaim as Bessie, but if anything can top the latter film, it's this one.


American Horror Story: Freak Show, "Monsters Among Us;" directed by Ryan Murphy
Bessie; directed by Dee Rees
The Honourable Woman; directed by Hugo Blick
Houdini; directed by Uli Edel
The Missing; directed by Tom Shankland
Olive Kitteridge; directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Wolf Hall; directed by Peter Kominsky

The Honourable Woman

Overview: At seven nominees, there was obviously a tie somewhere in this mix. Surprisingly, Bessie is the only television movie to pick up a nomination here. All of the other nominees are limited series, and with the exception of Freak Show, every episode was directed by the same person.

Biggest surprise: Given that Houdini received very mixed reviews when it premiered last fall, it's surprising to see Edel nominated here for its direction. This feels especially strange since the German director is not really a known quality here in the United States; his biggest claims to fame here is Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008, and the Jonathan Lipnicki-starring children's film The Little Vampire.

Most notable exclusion: It's interesting that, for all the nominations the show did pick up, the directing category was one place that American Crime missed out. Did the three episodes they submitted cancel each other out, or were voters just genuinely not as impressed by the show's direction?

Who's likely to win? This one is looking more and more likely for Cholodenko. She's done excellent work here; maybe a victory will motivate her to make a new film as well (it's been five years now since The Kids Are Alright).

But watch out for... Rees. She surely has built up a lot of good will from her beautiful 2011 film Pariah, and considering that Bessie seems primed to dominate the awards this year, it's just as likely that she could be the one hearing her name read on Emmy night.


American Crime, "Episode One;" written by John Ridley
Bessie; story by Horton Foote and Dee Rees, screenplay by Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, and Bettina Gilois
Hello Ladies: The Movie; written by Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg
The Honorable Woman; written by Hugo Blick
Olive Kitteridge; teleplay by Jane Anderson
Wolf Hall; written by Peter Straughn

Olive Kitteridge

Overview: Once again, the limited series dominate this category; Bessie is at least joined by Hello Ladies: The Movie this time around. And yes, your eyes do not deceive you: that is the late playwright Horton Foote receiving a "story by" credit on Bessie. Foote began working on the film during the late 1980s/early 1990s, only to see the financing fall through before production could begin. His first draft was used as the basis for this film's screenplay.

Biggest surprise: Hello Ladies: The Movie managed to perform quite well with the Academy, though I imagine in this category it helped to have the involvement of Stupnitsky and Eisenberg, two former writers for Emmy favorite The Office.

Most notable exclusion: Look, I know that the ratings were as abysmal as the title, and that the show has basically become a punching bag now (if it's even remembered). But The Slap was actually a very lovely program, with some terrific writing to boot. The episodes it submitted - "Harry" and "Rosie" - were very different, and perhaps not the best example of the show's power, but it still would have been nice to see it nab some recognition.

Who's likely to win? This one seems poised for American Crime to take. Ridley won an Oscar for writing 12 Years a Slave in 2013, and the show seems like it was very much a writers' program. It should stand out.

But watch out for... Olive Kitteridge and Anderson. Adapting the novel in a way that both respects the source material and makes it cinematic, Anderson did beautiful work on this miniseries. It could be enough to pull out a victory.

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